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By zamorse

Well, this is it. My last blog post. I can't believe the semester is almost over, but it is. I'm a weird space right now---I still have over a week left of the semester, 2 papers and 2 exams standing in my way of academic freedom, but I've already begun reflecting on my semester. I said my first goodbye already to a friend who had to go home for medical reasons, I just came back from my last day trip with the international school (we went to the Lebanese border, a Druze village for lunch, the Syrian border in the Golan Heights, and wine tasting).
This is going to be a week of lasts. Last trip to the shouk (market), last weekend in the holy land, etc, and as more people start to leave, it feels even more real.
January seems like only yesterday--when I was scared and nervous as to what this semester would have in store for me. I had quite the semester and quite the adventure in the fall in Korea, and I was worried this semester would be a let down compared to the adventure I had in Seoul. I didn't speak any Korean, knew nothing of the culture, and knew nobody there, but ended up having an amazing semester.
Israel was the opposite. I speak Hebrew, I have family and friends here, and I had been here three times previously. I was worried it wouldn't be an adventure---it would just feel like school.
That's definitely not what happened.
Studying in Haifa was a great decision. I got out of the mercaz (center) of the country and went to a working city. I got to explore the culture in Israel like I had never seen it before, met some great friends along the way, and had an amazing semester in the process.
Now it's back to DC and off to my next adventure---senior year.

By zamorse

Even though this is my blog, I want to use this post to talk about the dual society of people studying abroad in Haifa. Before I came to Israel I assumed that everybody studying here would be studying Hebrew and want to be in Israel because it's Israel. At Haifa, especially, that's not the case. A lot of people came to the university to study Arabic and Arab culture, and Israel is as close to that as they could get.

This weekend is Memorial Day and Independence Day and because we don't have class on Monday or Tuesday my friends and I decided to get out of Haifa and go explore Tel Aviv. Which is where I am, sitting in the common room of the hostel. We came with a big group, 9 people to celebrate my friend's birthday on Friday night. On Saturday, our group split up. Half stayed in Tel Aviv and half went on to Ramallah in the West Bank. Now, it's important to note that these friends of mine purposefully went to the West Bank on Israeli Independence Day because they wanted to go see Palestinian protests in the West Bank.

For me, this idea is crazy. I came to Israel to experience Israel and it's hard for me to comprehend wanting to leave Israel on Independence Day to go to the West Bank. But that was exactly their point. Much of the Middle East is unsafe for Study Abroad right now (Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, etc) and maybe their school didn't have a study abroad program in Jordan. And because they couldn't study abroad in the West Bank, Israel was the closest they could get.

My friend group is pretty split on the political spectrum of the conflict, but we're actually able to have civil conversations on the conflict all the time. We don't avoid talking about it, and we've mastered the idea of criticizing somebody's idea, not the person themselves.

This weekend is just a perfect microcosm of who comes to study abroad at the University of Haifa. Some people come to Haifa to experience Palestinian culture, and some people come to study Israeli culture. And we're able to talk about our differences and share experiences.

That's a way more valuable experience about conflict resolution than anything I could read in a textbook.

By zamorse

This week was Passover vacation here in Israel. Passover is the Spring holiday in Judaism that celebrates the exodus from Egypt. It's a big family holiday for eight days, and Jews travel all over the world to be with their families and experience the holiday. It's know to most non-Jews by the unleavened tasteless bread that we eat, Matza. In Israel it's like Spring Break, people get days off from work, and the universities are shut down for the week. In the diaspora (outside of Israel), there's two seders (big meals) on the first two nights of the holiday, but in Israel there's only one seder. We went to my mom's friends house in Ra'anana to have the seder with their extended Israeli family.

My parents and grandmother came to visit this week since I didn't have school, and it's been really nice to see them. Instead of staying in Haifa near the university (which is shut down this week), we're staying in Herzliya, which is in the center of the country, just north of Tel Aviv, right on the beach. We rented a car from the airport and have been traveling all over Israel this week.

Today we went to Jerusalem and the Old City, went to the Western Wall and walked through the Jewish Quarter, then walked outside the Old City and had lunch at the famous King David Hotel. And what an interesting experience that was. Today is Easter, so the Christian Quarter was busy celebrating that holiday. It's Passover in the Jewish Quarter, and there are Muslim riots on the Temple Mount in the Muslim Quarter (2 people injured, 24 arrested just this morning). The Old City is a walled ancient city (.35 square miles) in the middle of Jerusalem and has four quarters. The biggest is the Muslim Quarter, followed by the Christian Quarter, then the Jewish Quarter, and finally the Armenian Quarter. So to say that a lot was going on today in such a small area was an understatement.

Yesterday we went to a museum in Tel Aviv. The day before we went to the oldest neighborhood in Tel Aviv to walk around. We've gone up to Haifa this week to see the university and walk around the national park across the street. We went to Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Museum) in Jerusalem, and Beit Hatfutsot (The Diaspora Museum) at Tel Aviv University.

It's been a busy week, but it's been really nice seeing my family since I don't get to see them very much. And living in Herzliya this week is a totally different experience then Haifa---much less diversity, much more wealth, and many more Americans.

I've been to the three largest cities in Israel this week. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa---each with their own unique flavor and characteristics. And I've had the great experience of having my family come to visit me in my second study abroad location. Until next time!

By zamorse

Normally on a Saturday night in the U.S., like most college students, I would not be in my room studying. But here I am, studying in my room on a Saturday night. In Israel, the week starts on Sunday (Friday and Saturday constitute the weekend because of Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath) hence Saturday night is a school night and the end of my first week in Israel.

It's been a busy week so far. I arrived on Sunday in Tel Aviv and took a sherut (shared taxi) to Haifa. Got settled into my dorm and unpacked. Monday was the Hebrew placement exam and orientation for the winter ulpan (Hebrew classes) session. Since then, i've been taking Hebrew class every day for four hours a day---definitely daunting, and exploring the town and the neighborhood.

The University of Haifa is situated on top of a hill overlooking the entire city, beach, and port, and the view is absolutely spectacular. There's also a national park across the street with spectacular views of the ocean and great hiking and biking trails. Even though it's a very densely populated country, there's still lots of national parks, and I happen to be right across the street from one!

Getting adjusted here was not too bad. I had been to Israel three time before, know the culture, language, geography pretty well, so it is not a completely foreign place for me. Getting adjusted to the time zone was tough though and I didn't have an appetite for the first three days I was here. Luckily, my appetite has come roaring back and I even invited a couple of friends over and made shakshouka (a Tunisian dish made with poached eggs in tomato sauce, with spices and vegetables). I have a kitchen in my dorm and a mini-supermarket in my dorm complex, complete with most Israeli foods (except fresh produce) that I need.

Cooking in my room is one of the things I'm most excited for this semester. And exploring the nature around campus and exploring the beautiful city that I now live in for this semester, and pretty much everything in this country. Until next time!

By zamorse

Israel seems so familiar, yet so different at the same time. This is my fourth time in the Land of Milk and Honey, and every time I come it feels like a weird mixture of being home while also being in foreign country at the same time. Since this is my fourth time in Israel, I think the biggest shock for me was how uncomfortable I felt getting off the plane and making my way to the University of Haifa.

Last semester I studied abroad in Korea, a place so foreign to me—I don’t speak Korean, or know any Koreans there, and I certainly didn’t know anything about the culture—that I often thought to myself, “what on earth am I doing here?” That question does not apply to my study abroad experience in Israel this semester. I speak Hebrew, I know the culture, I know people here---and I know I’m here to study Hebrew and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But yet, getting off that plane this afternoon and traveling halfway across the country to get to Haifa---I found myself asking “what on earth am I doing here?” I already had a fantastic study abroad experience; did I really need another one? And just thinking that question to myself was a shock in of itself. That is the last question I thought I would be asking myself as I traveled to my new home for the next four months.

My biggest shock arriving in Israel had nothing to do with Israeli culture, it was just a simple little question that I asked myself, “what on earth am I doing here?”

And you know what? I can’t wait to find the answer.