Where are you from? Who are you? What do you do? These are questions we are often asked. Their answers shine a light on our background, identity, and legacy. In my latest Dreams Abroad interview, I ask these questions and more to Jiye Kaye. We touch upon Israeli culture and how the last three and a half years have impacted her while she has been studying abroad. Jiye describes her lifestyle and identity as ever-changing since moving from South Korea to the United States and then on to Israel. When talking about her life and legacy, Jiye describes herself as growing. Jiye is living her life and is unsure of who she is at the moment. She is undertaking her own personal journey and only she will know when she reaches her destination. Jiye has plenty of relevant experience to offer when discussing study abroad advantages and disadvantages.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Long-Term Study Abroad
My rule of thumb is that nothing becomes real until it is experienced.” — Jiye Kang
To recap, Jiye mentioned five things she wished she had known before her long-term study in Israel. They were: academic environment, Israeli culture, a lack of campus culture, the standard of living, and language. In this first We Study interview, she moved on to cover history, food, and oh, so much more. Join me as I catch up with Jiye about her ongoing experiences in Israel and some of the study abroad advantages and disadvantages.
How would you compare your experience to shorter study abroad experiences like those in the United States that typically last a single semester?”
I guess it’s up to personal preference, but I do enjoy long-term study. You can actually see the real side of the culture you’re in. I don’t think you can catch all the cultural nuances or subtleties in a short period of time. Well, at least this was the case for me. I had a tourist mindset during my first year in Israel. My focus was more on new things and new experiences. I feel like I started to get real about studying and living in Israel sometime later. Notably, however, long-term study abroad requires commitment. Researching what you’re getting into is very important. I think a short-term study abroad semester might give someone the taste of living abroad before they make a huge decision.
Since you’ve lived in Israel for so long, how has the experience with immersion into Israeli society and culture been as a whole? For example, what was a pre-COVID academic day like?”
Frankly, I’ve had a rough time because the culture is completely different. It isn’t an easy culture to adapt to. Once a friend of mine taught me a Hebrew word: sabra. It’s an Israeli cactus fruit that’s thorny on the outside but sweet inside. Many Israelis describe themselves as sabras: once you get through the outer part, you’ll meet one of the warmest people in the world. Honestly, this saved me many times from misunderstanding some of my friends when we first met. Initially, I thought they weren’t nice to me at all. However, now I know that they’re one of the sweetest people I know.
The other important topic in Israeli culture is understanding warfare. This is something all Israelis have been living with from generation to generation. The constant tensions in the country affect people and their thought process on a regular basis. I mean, I’m Korean and I remember my grandparents occasionally talked about the Korean war era. However, my grandparents’ generation were the ones that dealt with it. There was no need for endless national defense, unlike Israel. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand that part of Israeli culture or mentality. The mandatory army service is a big part of their conversation, which again, I don’t have, so sometimes I feel left behind. Yet I hope to understand more of Israeli culture and society. It’s very dynamic but too complicated to understand all at once.
What has been the most memorable archeological site you have visited and why?”
Sha’ar HaGolan. It’s one of my favorite sites in Israel. Sha’ar HaGolan is located near Golan Heights in the Jordan Valley area. It’s a Pottery Neolithic — approximately 6400BCE — site. Their settlement plan was well-developed with streets, rooms, communal spaces, and a courtyard. The archaeologists found water storage and other spaces for potential surplus. Their beautiful pottery shards and cultic clay figures are fascinating. It’s not a famous site like Tel Meggido or Tower of David, but it shares different aspects of regular people’s lives in early societies. Regardless, I love the area. Northern Israel is so beautiful.
How has this impacted your studies and how you view Israel?”
I always wanted to come to Israel for archaeology. This whole experience has absolutely given me more potential as an anthropologist/archaeologist. Not only have I received more hands-on experience, but I truly believe that I have learned essential social skills such as acceptance and engagement. I’m now more confident to work with people from different cultural backgrounds. Accepting that there are many ways to see and think is great. This is a crucial trait for academics because we’re supposed to be open-minded and seek knowledge from various angles.
My views on Israel have changed a lot. I honestly didn’t know much about the country until I moved here. Holding my hands up, I misjudged the whole entity without knowing much about it. Israel is a very complicated country. In the past, I’ve used the term “Israeli” very loosely, meaning that I used to refer to Jewish people as Israelis. I now know that Israelis can be Arab Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Druze, Bedouin, or none of these. The country is a mix of many layers of history, people, religions, and nationalities. My point is that we can’t judge a book by its cover, especially when we don’t have the ability to yet understand its nuances.
What’s the most interesting piece of history you have learned while living in Israel?”
I found the ultra-orthodox Jewish community interesting because of their traditions and issues with the outer world. Some of those who live in Jerusalem refuse to be Israeli citizens and only speak Yiddish. They’re still waiting for the Messiah to come and be the only king of Israel. Therefore, they don’t acknowledge the state of Israel. Due to this view, they will not speak Hebrew casually. Hebrew is supposed to be the holy language, which is only for prayer and The Torah. They also refuse to serve the army, so there have been various issues between them and the government.
What are the study abroad advantages and disadvantages in Israel? For example, do expats get to travel to places with a discount?”
Travel. Travel while you study in Israel because it is much cheaper and easier compared to the States. Europe is about five hours by airplane away and the flights are way cheaper than the US. Going to Turkey takes just an hour and a half by airplane. Jordan and Egypt are right next to Israel. Travel is way more affordable. Although some countries will give you a hard time if your passport has an Israeli stamp on it, I haven’t had any problems so far.
Israel gives students various benefits so that they can get the full experience and study comfortably. However, if you aren’t Jewish, those benefits go out the window. Opportunities mostly revolve around them, so it could possibly limit what you want to do.
Which one experience will you remember for the rest of your life and why?”
I will always remember the first time I witnessed conflicts between the religious Jewish community and the Muslim community. Beforehand, I only knew about Middle-Eastern conflicts theoretically. I mean, I was only getting second-hand information from the media, which I believe isn’t always unbiased.
Long story short, my mom and I were sightseeing in the Old City in Jerusalem in 2019. I’d noticed an unusual amount of Israeli policemen and journalists there. Later I found out that it was a big day for both Jewish and Muslim people. It was the anniversary of the unification of the capital during the Six-Day War and the final day of Ramadan. The alignment of these days meant that the Jewish groups were trying to get to the Temple Mount while the other group tried to stop them. Eventually, riots broke out with both sides fighting one another. There were many alleys that were blocked for safety reasons, but nonetheless, I later heard of some incidents that happened on that day.
A week later, we came back to Jerusalem and we were finally able to visit the Temple Mount. We saw the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque without the riots. Everyone was nice, local kids were playing with each other, and their mothers were watching them. That’s the moment it hit me. My mom and I saw different things in the same place a week ago. That was a weird moment to realize how everything’s so twisted and what we see as an outsider is very different from what actually goes on.
If you were to prepare a to-do list for someone following in your footsteps, what would be at the top?”
I would list three essential things:
First, try real hummus. This is a very critical thing in Israel. Israelis love hummus. They always talk about it. Almost everyone knows how to make it and you’ll probably meet someone who claims to know the best recipe. This is a great dinner-table conversation with friends and honestly, I bonded with some friends over our favorite hummus places.
Second, make local friends who can go to your favorite hummus place and argue with them about whose place is better. Having local friends is so important because they can be your family while you live in a foreign country. Living and studying abroad isn’t always fun and exciting. Having that bond and support system will make your life way better.
Third, learn Hebrew. This is one of a few things I wish I tried harder to do in the beginning. I’m certain knowing Hebrew could have made my life a lot easier here.
All of these reasons don’t exactly relate to my academic life in Israel, but I think they are beyond important than school. Have fun and make some mistakes while you can. From my experience, school works better when I am happy and enjoying life.
What would be at the bottom of the list?”
Don’t get stuck in your comfort zone. I know this might be tricky because having that bubble is also important, especially when one culture is too different from what you’re familiar with. I’ve found my bubble in Israel which gave me enormous support and love. However, I wish I was a little more adventurous. If I knew 2020 would be such a show before it happened, I would have tried something unusual or out of my routine.
Jiye will continue to keep us informed as she finishes her thesis and prepares for her next journey after exploring the study abroad advantages and disadvantages. Her life looks set to be filled with adventure and her next article is forthcoming. She has another incredible life journey ahead and she looks forward to sharing it with Dreams Abroad.