Israeli academics, up to this point in the semester, have not been vastly different from academics at GW. Most, if not all, of my professors received their Masters or Doctorate degrees from American universities, so the structure of class tends to be rather familiar: a reading or two to be completed before class, and a PowerPoint lecture that covers material discussed in those readings. As a result, I’ve slipped into a studying routine that’s about the same as it is at GW, and in a foreign country with many new and different experiences, this has been somewhat of a comfort.
However, as the semester is about halfway over and midterms have begun, I have started to notice the Israeli culture and state of mind creeping into my academics in a way that is patently Israeli. At GW, professors may give a written, in-class midterm, and several weeks before the exam provide a study guide to allow students to focus in on what they need to study. This model provides clarity for the students in order to study as well as they can for the midterm.
Israel, however, likes to live constantly on the edge. Whether it’s the brink of extinction the Jewish people faced less than a century ago, or the almost constant threat of war from surrounding groups and countries, Israeli culture is inherently about risk taking and living in the moment – for each day could be ones last. This mentality has undoubtedly found its way into academic culture as well. Across the board, all of my professors have resisted the attempts of American students to pry study guides or exam descriptions out of them. This is not because they want us to just consistently study and be prepared, as my classmates and I initially believed. Rather, the professors explained that giving us these study guides or exam descriptions would hinder our ability to enjoy the moment. Spring has begun, its warm outside, the beach is a short walk away, why would we want study guides for exams with that right outside?
Personally, this is an attitude that caused me some initial stress. I am a person who likes to be prepared, especially in academics. If I have a paper due in a month, I like to have it done at least a week before the due date, and I could not even dream of cramming for a test the night before. I was worried that without the proper study guide or time to prepare for the test, I would not succeed. However, after discussing this issue with Israeli friends, my mind was changed. Academics are important, midterms are important, but at what cost? If the threat of war materializes tomorrow, do I want to have spent the last month studying, or do I want to have spent it enjoying what this beautiful country has to offer?
Now, of course, this is not to say that at any point in my time studying in Israel have I felt an inkling of the threat of danger. Additionally, this does not mean that I have necessarily downplayed the importance of academics. However, with so much to explore outside my door, why not explore? This change in attitude, to a more Israeli way of thinking, has led me to venture out more, and stress less, to make lasting international friendships, rather than making flashcards. And these memories, rather than the study guide or exam, will be the ones that will last forever.