I may be long past my college days, but I’ve been around enough foreign students to learn a thing or two about what it’s like to study abroad in Israel.
The first — and perhaps most important — thing I learned was something I technically knew but took for granted: Israel is a small country, but it’s diverse one that’s rich in customs and traditions. The country’s three major cities prove this point. In Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world, there’s history and a thriving cultural scene. Tel Aviv is more liberal, with a vibrant night life and start-ups calling this city home. Then you have Haifa, the “working man’s city.” Haifa sits just below the stunning Mount Carmel along the Mediterranean coastline.
Another thing I learned: It’s not absolutely necessary to learn Hebrew. Many foreign students assume that they have to learn Hebrew or travel with a translator if they want to study in Israel, but this is not true. You’ll find that most Israelis speak English fluently.
Does that mean that students shouldn’t attempt to learn Hebrew? No. And there are plenty of opportunities for foreign students to learn the language at university.
Israel is the second-most educated country in the world. The universities here rank among the top 100 best in the world. You’re more likely to see students taking nootropics powder to enhance their academic performance than you are to see them drinking and partying. Okay, that may be partly because Israel has some of the oldest students in the world, but it’s still worth noting that the quality of the education is top-notch.
I’ve also learned that it’s harder than you think to adjust to new cultural norms. Israelis observe Shabbat, the day of rest, every week. For foreigners, particularly Americans, this can be hard to adjust to. Many businesses and services are closed until sundown on Saturday, which is one of the busiest days of the week for many other cultures.
Still, this is one custom that brings the most joy. It’s not uncommon to see people walking together, talking and laughing, as the sun sets on Friday. Many share meals together and sing Shabbot blessings and songs together. It’s a beautiful experience.
While the cultures and customs may take some getting used to, I’ve also learned — or have been reminded of the fact — that Israel is a very welcoming country. Yes, Israel has a large Jewish population, but you’ll find churches and mosques in just about every city. Everyone is free to practice their own religion and traditions if they choose to.
Israel is also a safe country for students. There’s a reason the country is renowned for its security: we take it very seriously. With that said, this is another thing that foreign students must get used to. Routine searches are often performed when entering public areas, such as malls, bus stations and crowded buildings. But all of these extra precautions help Israel remain a safe destination for students — and everyone else.