I had to pinch myself a few times when I got off the plane last week. It still didn’t feel real that I was actually here, that this was finally happening. After a pretty easy flight to Turkey (with no one next to me) and a short layover in Istanbul and flight to Tel Aviv, I found my bags and made it through customs to meet a friend who is working in Netanya this year (thanks, Dascher). She showed me how to take the train and I got up to Haifa around midnight after a full 24 hours of traveling. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and felt pretty alone once I got to my room (which, by the way, has a beautiful view overlooking all of the city). I knew it was going to take a few days to adjust, so I just kept telling myself to be patient and look at the stars. Everything sparkles here in this really gorgeous, special way.
We started bright and early the next morning and I met the four other girls in my program (CIEE Haifa). We all come from really different backgrounds with various reasons for choosing this program in particular. Our morning schedule that first day: taking the bus to get the Rav-Kav card (kind of like a SmarTrip), breakfast picnic on the beach, and then a tour of Wadi Nisnas, an especially diverse part of the city where lots of different identities coexist. People do live side by side here, peacefully. The news unnecessarily sensationalizes the conflict, not to diminish the fact that things are definitely still happening. That night we had dinner with our advisor, Kate, and discussed The Lemon Tree, a really great book that parallels the human experiences of an Israeli and a Palestinian who both lived in the same house at two different points in time. I believe this is how we should learn about conflicts- from the people- the real stories.
And that is what we did, on Saturday. We drove up north around Nahariyya, to a place called Iqrit (more information also here), and talked to a few of the 12 men living in the church on top of a hill. They’re musicians, artists, and writers, and they told us why they were there and let us ask questions. That’s when I realized that if there’s one thing I’m going to figure out here, it’s going to be how to ask questions. Here, people are so straightforward and genuine, if you are to them. If you ask them questions, they will give you a full, honest answer. I love it. We went to see another of our tour guide’s friends, a guy from Jordan who is volunteering here with an organization called YEEPI, and is also in a relationship with an Israeli Jew. That night, after a delicious dinner, we went out with some of our tour guide’s friends and got to see some of the city at night.
On Sunday, I got my phone figured out- if you want to reach me while I’m here, send me an email or Facebook message and I will give you a local number that you can call! My cell is also 058-796-3051 if you have iMessage or Whatsapp. We went to the Druze market for some basic supplies and food which helped us feel a lot more settled in. The other international students were also getting in that night, so campus wasn’t completely empty anymore. We had orientation Monday morning and met all the other students we’ll be having some of our classes with- there’s a pretty limited set of classes in the International School (but all awesome) so we’re all in many similar ones, especially the International Relations/Peace & Conflict/PoliSci students. Some of us went on the school-sponsored (free!) Haifa tour which included a stop at the Baha’i gardens (another faith community here), the shuk (Talpiyot Market) for all my favorite kinds of fresh food, another stop at Wadi Nisnas for the two famous falafel places across the street from each other (the others hadn’t been there yet), and some pictures of the Baha’i gardens at night from below. This day was when I finally got to take a breath and feel fully confident that I had picked the right place to go abroad. Everyone has a different place from which he or she is coming, a different perspective, story, reason, interest, or passion. Our first few days of classes opened my eyes even more to the broad range of experiences and studies everyone has, and the way that we are going to be able to share these thoughts with each other. As of right now, I’m planning to take Arab-Israeli Relations, Psychology of Resistance, Arms Control in the Nuclear Realm, and Hebrew (every morning Mon-Thurs for 2 hours). The other three classes are once a week for about 3 hours each, which is actually an awesome schedule that makes me focus for that time and have a lot of other time to do my own stuff.
A few days ago I received this quote in my email from another one of my friends who is studying abroad this semester: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” How timely. I’m trying to give more attention to myself, to others, to little beautiful things- and big beautiful things, and take this time to really invest in this experience. After a week here, I’m feeling calm, happy, and more independent, but I’m still trying to put everything to the right words. I wanted to keep a blog so family and friends could not only see what I was up to, but also so I could explain some of what is really going on here in a way that the media doesn’t. I’m not saying I’m going to know or see or do everything here (three and a half months, I’m realizing, is barely enough time to start), but, it’s something. If you have any questions about anything, what I write, what you read somewhere else, what you’re thinking, my pictures on Facebook, or just want to talk, please don’t hesitate to send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) while I’m here. As much as this is my own experience, I want to be able to share it with others so that maybe, one day, we’ll all understand each other a little bit better.