My school in Venezuela taught us English from a young age, so adjusting to the language wasn’t a huge problem for me when I moved to Philadelphia to study in college. The real challenge was adjusting to new cultural practices. I went from saying hi to strangers whenever I walked into an elevator to completely ignoring my classmates. I went from hugging and kissing people I just met to barely shaking their hands. And the thing is, those little things that were so abnormal for me became part of my routine, and later on became a part of me. I was not truly American, but I did a fairly good job at conforming into the society without losing that Venezuelan spark that I am so proud to have.
But even if I was living in America and following society’s norms, people could tell that I didn’t belong there. I thought I had to conform even more in order to succeed in the Drexel Co-op program, and that I had to bring my latino-ness down a notch to be able to get a good job because most likely my audience was going to be Americans.
For my second Co-op, I decided to apply to write for my favorite publication while growing up. After series of email exchanges and some stress on my part, I didn’t get the job. Part of me felt that my dream was broken, but another part of me was hopeful. While working for this magazine was little Orly’s dream job, living in Israel was my dream since the first time I visited the land. I had the option of finding another co-op in Philadelphia, without leaving my comfort zone. Or, I could reach for a bigger dream and pack my bags, go to Israel, find a job and face my fears.
Fast forward four months and here I am: in the land of milk and honey. I came here thanks to Masa Israel and Destination Israel, where I am doing a five-month internship experience in Tel Aviv. I have been to Israel several times before, but I always saw it through the eyes of a tourist, knowing that in a short time I would go back home to either eat empanadas (in Venezuela) or in my case, a vegan cheesesteak (in Philadelphia).
As excited as I was about getting a good internship in my favorite city and a grant to pay for my stay, the thought of pursuing my Israel dream scared me. I was afraid I was going to need to conform again. I was going to need to learn the slang, (tachles, is one of the hardest things about living here), the customs, and the culture. It was like I needed to change the person I became in Philadelphia to be able to fit during this period of time, to go back to Drexel and conform back again.
I took the leap, and I’m happy to report that I was wrong with my assumption. In Israel, I do not conform. Here I am a Venezuelan-pseudo-American living with other 17 Jewish young adults from all over the world, and yet I am myself. I never thought that living with people from Canada, Turkey, Brazil and England would make me feel more at home than ever. That’s the amazing thing about Israel, the people you meet here soon become your family, even if we come from different time zones.
It is amazing how, even if Israel is such a different country from both Venezuela and United States, it doesn’t feel foreign that way. My experience these past months have opened my eyes on how Israel really is beyond the typical touristic activities, the conflict, and the hummus. I took Hebrew classes to perfect my Hebrew, I go to local places to enjoy the Israeli culture, and even learned how to make the best tachina in the comfort of my home. I learned how going to the Shuk HaCarmel on a Friday morning is as chaotic as Black Friday in America (something that I will admit I do not miss), how “no” actually means “maybe”, and that anything is possible here.
I do miss home, both in Venezuela and Philadelphia, but I am extremely happy I took the unique opportunity to spend five months in Israel and absorb the culture without really conforming. I am now confident that this is the place where I want to spend the rest of my life at, without bringing my latino-ness down a notch.