Why did you decide to study abroad?
I felt like studying abroad would be a terrific opportunity to do something I've always wanted to do: to explore a new area of the world and to experience life somewhere else. Although I was slightly nervous (especially because I'd already spent a semester abroad during my first year and didn't want to miss out at Colby), I knew it was an "if not now, when?" kind of thing.
How did you choose where to go?
I went to Israel with my family about 4 or 5 years ago and since then I've been eager to go back for an extended period of time. Israeli society is full of complexities that I knew I needed to see firsthand in order to understand.
Can you briefly describe your program while abroad?
I LOVED my program. We lived in the BEST neighborhood in Tel Aviv: a residential area full of young families, right across the street from HaYarkon Park (think Central Park), and a short walk from the nemal (port) and the beach. We had lots of excursions and field trips to compliment our classroom instruction. I felt at home right away and truly felt like "I lived in Tel Aviv for 4 months" as opposed to "I just studied there for a semester"
What were somehighlights or memorable moments of the experience for you?
SO many highlights and memorable moments. One of my favorite things was Shabbat. Not even in a religious sense; in a cultural, family-oriented sense. Most young Israelis have dinner with their families on Friday night and then go out on the town. Then Saturday, it seems like the whole country is on vacation. Everyone is so relaxed. You walk through the park and see families having a picnic, kicking around a soccer ball, or just enjoying each other's company. My Saturday routine was to walk through the park and go get brunch with my friends on the nemal, where we would see even more families and young people enjoying life.
As for memorable moments, I have to say that Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, and Independence Day were up there. On Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day, you see the entire country united as they literally shut down for a moment. Then in some odd Israeli way, it culminates in a big celebration (Memorial Day and Independence Day are 2 days in a row) and the entire country participates.
What was your greatest challenge?
Honestly, it was a very smooth semester! It was really easy to jump right in. I think the biggest challenge for me was meeting Israelis because it's kind of a strange time to be in Israel (I'm talking as a college junior). Instead of going to college right away, Israeli men and women go to the army immediately after high school. After the mandatory 2 years for women and 3 years for men, some decide to sign on for a few more years and some even make a career out of it. Many people decide to go travel for a year because they've just had this intense experience and need some time to explore the world and figure out what they want to do next.
That said, I wouldn't say it's "difficult" to meet Israelis. They're so friendly and eager to get to know you. You just have to be brave and put yourself out there (whether at a cafe, on the quad at university, etc.). Also, you have to get past the weirdness that many of them will be older than you. Like 25+. But then again it's not as weird as you might think because so many of them are in the same place in life that you are (ie: undergrads, starting to live on their own, etc.)
How have you and/or your perspective changed after returning from study abroad?
The Israeli way of life, living in the moment, really touched me. I have a better understanding of how precious life can be, but how important it is to get out there and enjoy it.
What advice would you give to prospective study abroad students?
Think about what you want to get out of the semester beforehand and put your mind to it. The semester will fly by, so it's important to start checking things off the "to-do" list right away!