I remember the day I arrived at Ben Gurion airport three years ago to begin my adventures in Haifa, Israel. I thought I’d be tired after a long fourteen-hour flight, but I was wide awake. Most people at the airport wore short sleeves. Meanwhile, I dressed like a mountain bear flying from cold Newark, New Jersey. I didn’t yet feel like I’d made it to Israel until I saw the “Welcome to Israel” sign. Suddenly I noticed that I couldn’t understand a single word of what people were saying! That was when I realized my journey in Israel had just begun. Here is what I know now about studying in Haifa, Israel.
1) The Academic Environment Is More Relaxed
I moved to Haifa where I started my master’s in archaeology. Haifa is in the northern part of Israel, nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and Mount Carmel. Haifa alone has close to 5,000 prehistoric sites and some historic sites nearby. There is a long, established tradition of excavations conducted by the University of Haifa. When I first heard of the university and its archaeological projects, I felt so excited. During one of these projects, the researchers found Neanderthal remains in a cave site. Another big project the University of Haifa worked on was Tel Megiddo or, as it’s known in Greece, Armageddon. The fact the university had been involved in such massive undertakings, plus its involvement in cultural material studies, inspired me to apply for a master’s program here.
Don’t expect to get curriculums or rubrics. How do we prepare for classes? Communicate with lecturers every time you have questions. It’s way more casual in terms of deadlines for assignments, paper guidelines, or reference styles than Western schools.
2) There Is No Campus Culture
Campus culture is quite a foreign concept for Israeli colleges. You may have to change your strategies if you plan to make some friends while studying in Israel. I had a hard time in my first year because I expected clubs or societies I could have joined to socialize. Unfortunately, it’s not a thing here. I suggest using social media to find communities. The best way to make friends is through mainly off-campus activities. For example, I’ve joined the “clean up Haifa” group. We meet up to clean up the Mediterranean Coast, or Hof Hacarmel twice a month. It’s so much fun cleaning up, and I’ve met local Israelis and people from all over the world. Some became good friends of mine.
3) Israelis are Direct
Be ready to talk about anything with strangers on the street. There are no such taboos or private space. The vast majority of people casually talk about money, politics, and religion in public settings. It can go from “where are you from?” to “how much do you pay for rent?” rapidly. Don’t take it personally. It’s all coming from curiosity towards foreigners.
4) The Cost of Living in Haifa is High
Israel is expensive. Budgeting is necessary because any financial burden could influence your studies and mental health in the long term. Don’t worry, despite the high cost, it is manageable. Local farmer’s markets are great alternatives, and you can always plan ahead for special occasions and outings. Also, finding roommates is never a problem.
5) Beware the Language Barrier
Learning a new language can be intimidating. It was for me, at least. I had no background in learning Semitic languages before, so I wasn’t proactive about it before arriving. But there are opportunities to learn Hebrew or Arabic. The Israeli government offers a program called “Ulpan,” a Hebrew language course. It can be pricey, but I’ve heard that you’ll be able to have small conversations with locals after one or two semesters of learning. Another alternative is to join language exchange groups on Facebook, which a friend of mine did. Her Hebrew is pretty decent.
I can’t forget the first time I excavated in Tel Esur. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to dig up a human burial, which had been encased in a well-preserved jar. I felt thrilled about it the entire time because I’ve never experienced excavating burial jars before. To make the experience even better, ancient city walls and bulky structural remains encapsulated this beautiful Middle Bronze age site. As I was digging, I tried to picture the city that existed here over 5,000 years ago and what life could have been like then. For me, it is always fascinating to see how past cultures have withstood time and how our perspectives form in human cultures.
Above all, I truly feel blessed to get as many hands-on experiences as I have since I started studying here. I’ve participated in numerous excavations from different periods throughout human history. These opportunities are by far the biggest pro of long-term study in Israel. Anyone studying here can get the full experience throughout the year. Israel is a small country full of history, so everywhere you look, there are archaeological sites! So, the longer you stay here, the more you get to experience. Frankly, I felt overwhelmed in my first year with a long list of excavations all over Israel. I wanted to be part of every project if I could.
My rule of thumb is that nothing becomes real until it is experienced. So, go for an adventure and get out of your comfort zone by studying overseas. I used to have so many ideas and thoughts about culture, study abroad, expat life, etc. However, you’ll never know what it actually is like in the real world unless you experience it. You get to meet people with different backgrounds and understandings of the world. How amazing if we can share and exchange ideas. That’s what makes us diverse, isn’t it? Intellectual diversity! So, go beyond and see the world!
by Jiye Kang