Life for Jiye Kang as a Korean female residing and going to school in Israel has been challenging but rewarding. In our previous interview, Jiye discussed her background and the benefits of studying abroad. While undertaking her own personal journey in Haifa, Israel, the pandemic hit. Jiye’s academic plans for her master’s degree shifted but Israel was prepared.
While Jiye is classified as an international student, she is also registered as an Israeli citizen. Local universities encourage all Israelis to go to school after serving in the military. They offer a scholarship that pays 2500 Israeli New Shekels (around €750 or $890 at the time of writing) to any student who finishes. Navigating through the red tape in Israel’s higher education system has been challenging and certainly one of the differences a western student has to get used to. I had the pleasure of catching up with Jiye and her upcoming plans, Israel’s handling of the pandemic, and their higher education system.
What is the current COVID-19 situation in Israel?”
The current COVID situation is relatively good in terms of vaccination rates. Masks are no longer obligatory unless you are in an enclosed space. The government is still cautious with travel abroad. However, it seems like Israel is doing well.
Have things returned to pre-pandemic times? How have things changed?”
Everything seems like it is slowly but surely going back to pre-pandemic times. It is absolutely weird to see people enjoying coffee and chatting with their friends at a cafe. However, we still need to schedule an appointment if we want to go to the bank or post office. You can no longer just walk in whenever you need or want to.
Why do you believe Israel was so successful with the roll-out?”
I think many Israelis had a very difficult time during the first lockdown. There were various issues when people were in lockdown last year and did not know how to implement a new lifestyle at that time. I remember that the national news constantly talked about the rise of domestic violence due to the lockdown. Some religious groups were still hosting and attending big weddings and funerals in areas that quickly became red zones. So I think people were immediately open to getting a shot when the vaccine became available.
Did the majority of the population embrace the need for the vaccine?”
I am uncertain about this but as far as I understand, the vast majority of the population is vaccinated. There are some people who do not believe in vaccination for various reasons. Earlier this year there were several protests because the government issued a “green passport” if people wanted to go and sit in restaurants and whatnot.
What if citizens did not want the vaccine? Was there an option not to get a shot?”
Having to receive the vaccine was not strictly enforced. Residents were encouraged for sure but it was more down to personal choice. I know several people who still have not gotten vaccinated.
Is Israel accepting vaccinated tourists? Can you explain a bit about this policy?”
Honestly, the policy has been changed quite a lot because the cases go up and down often. Especially Israelis who were traveling outside Israel caused issues with the COVID cases. So the government is not so keen on tourists at the moment. I am not 100% sure but Israel seems to be more open to accepting visitors from countries like Germany, South Korea, and the US. Basically, even if you were vaccinated in your home country, you still need to be quarantined for two weeks. Again, this is only allowed for people who are not from a red zone like Ukraine or Russia.
Are there restrictions for you to travel outside the country?”
I am not aware of any restrictions unless I try to go to one of the red zone countries. But you must do the COVID test at Ben Gurion Airport 72 hours prior to your flight and of course, get tested negative.
How is the country keeping you informed about the pandemic?”
I usually get the information through watching the news on television or reading newspaper articles. Also, it is helpful that local friends keep me updated with developments. I used to get text messages during the first breakout last year.
As an international student, you’ve attended school in Israel and in the US. How would you compare these experiences?”
First off, I love them both. They are very different. It definitely gives me unique experiences and broadens my perspectives when it comes to viewing the world, people, and culture. I would not say which one is better or worse but I do notice pros and cons.
Pros for studying in the US are openness and accessibility. It is full of various opportunities and you never know what you may become part of. Like I mentioned previously, social clubs or activities encourage students to be part of campus life and you feel that you are creating campus culture. That creativity and openness are very exciting and I truly believe that it helps students enjoy better mental health.
The biggest con is that attending schools in the US is pricey. So I need to make sure that I do well in classes. The pro for school in Israel is that you can make it special to your experience. Israel is known for specific fields and they do well with that. So if you can take advantage of the opportunity, that will make you a stronger candidate for your future. Also, tuition is a lot cheaper! However, if you do not have certain goals and aims for studying here, it is going to be very challenging and difficult.
How does the structure of the higher education system in the US compare with Israel? What are the considerable differences that you experience? For example, what are graduation requirements?”
The US is definitely way more structured. Things like guidelines, grad student handbooks, course requirements/descriptions, and basically what is expected from students are all expectations of the average US grad student. I would say that school in Israel is more flexible with timelines and is more lenient towards students taking their time to finish up their degrees. However, colleges that have more of an American influence seem to be more structured.
How would you compare class sizes, student interaction, and professor involvement?”
I cannot speak for every school in Israel, but what I experienced is that it is similar to the class size for a master’s seminar course. There are usually about five to eight students enrolled. Students interact with each other differently in the US than they do in Israel for sure. I do not recall if I had any interaction with my classmates in a class setting. It seems to me that it is more closed when it comes to discussion and other activities.
I honestly think it is tricky to answer clearly because of cultural barriers. In relation to that, professors or instructors appeared less involved. However, I am curious if I feel this because I am a foreign student. Cultural barriers played a big role between foreign students, lecturers, and the local student dynamic.
To what extent do master’s programs in the US and Israel follow a similar curriculum in your field of study?”
They are similar in terms of field school opportunities. I mean this is the most similar aspect I can think of, even though it is quite different in terms of how they operate the programs. However, there are always field school programs or excavations during the summer and winter breaks. Most students join the excavations for credits or volunteering.
How would you compare the university environment that you are currently in to the atmosphere of US schools?”
The University of Haifa is one of the major universities in Israel. There is another institution near mine so it feels like a college town. Not exactly like the bubble I would be familiar with in US schools, but there is that student town vibe.
What is the typical duration for a master’s or doctorate in Israel versus the US?”
It is pretty common for grad students to finish a master’s degree in three to four years and a Ph.D. in four to five years. It is similar to the US.
How would you characterize those seeking advanced degrees in Israel?”
Absolutely. Israel is known for certain fields like high technology, engineering, computer science, and archaeology. So if you can find the right niche for your interests, I would recommend it! As always, there might be a concern for certain political environments as you apply for jobs around the world. You may find it difficult to land a job just because you got a degree in Israel. Some people have different political stances about the Middle East conflicts. I personally think this is not fair but this is something you must consider if you are serious about studying in Israel.
Jiye has clearly experienced ups and downs when going to school in Israel. As always, it was interesting to hear her honest account of her continuing studies. We look forward to reading more about her academic progress in our next interview. If you are thinking of studying abroad, Jiye’s story is one we would recommend you follow closely.