Sophie Jacobs
Zionist. Writer. Soldier.

Why I’m Not Studying Abroad

Studying abroad junior year of college has become a bit of a cliché. Hypothetically, it’s a great opportunity for young people to learn about another country and themselves. I genuinely think that everyone should study abroad if they can. However, I don’t think it’s for me.

One of the biggest attractions to studying abroad is that it typically teaches students how to be independent and not rely on the easy safety net of America. But I’ve already learned how to live independently in another country.

Last summer when I was living in Israel, I slammed my finger in a door as I left my internship. My finger started bleeding, which prompted me to start crying as I waited for and eventually boarded a bus to go from Jaffa to Bat Yam. When I reached my apartment, my finger felt broken. Having been lucky enough to never break any bones, I understandably panicked. I called my (very hands-off) madricha and she told me I had two options: 1) wait a day and have a Russian nurse make a house call, or 2) go to a community clinic in Tel Aviv. I chose the latter and immediately began my journey.

The magic of Moovit led me to an odd complex in an unrecognizable, bare neighborhood. The building vaguely looked like an indoor car dealership, but there was also a Domino’s on the ground level. I found an elevator and promptly arrived on apparently the correct floor.

In my mind, I assumed that I was going to a doctor’s office or some variation of urgent care. When I stepped out of the elevator, I was met by a mob of Israelis, vociferously waiting. Unsure how to proceed, I went up to who appeared to be the receptionist. When I opened my mouth to speak, she just pointed and continued conversing in Russian on the phone. I looked over to a red machine, dispensing tickets with numbers on them like at a deli. So I took a number, took in my surroundings, and quickly realized that no broken finger was worth this type of stress. (I then also called a family friend who knew an American doctor in Israel if I really needed—which, thankfully, I didn’t).

Going to that clinic was one of my strongest glimpses into the socialistic bureaucracy that helped make Israel the country it is today. However frazzled I was in the moment, the experience taught me that I have a higher tolerance for pain than I do for anxiety-inducing situations. I wouldn’t have been able to learn something new about myself had I mundanely slammed my finger in a door at home or at school. It was because I was living in another country with a different culture than my own that I had the pleasure of encountering a community clinic.

I’ve had other experiences like the almost-broken-finger one (many having to do with buses), which is why I’m not studying abroad. For the fall semester of my junior year, I’m going back to Israel, to a place I am very familiar with and comfortable navigating. I know what Israeli candy I like, which bars won’t let me in because of my age (despite being a charming American), and where to get carrot cake (Aroma—Landwer if you’re desperate). At this point in my life, going to Israel is not going abroad, because I’m not going to a foreign country. Once you know a place, how can it be foreign?

Since I’m going to Israel and not the classic Madrid, Amsterdam, or Australia, sometimes I feel like I’m cheating. I’m taking advantage of spending a semester outside of the States, but not to the full extent. I already know what I’m getting into with Israel, and while there certainly will be surprises, I don’t anticipate being shocked by anything that I encounter. I’m not studying abroad, but that’s not a bad thing.

If I’m going to spend five months away from New Orleans, a city I mostly adore and occasionally tolerate, then it doesn’t make sense to me to go anywhere else but Israel. I can easily visit the other countries my friends are studying abroad in while having Israel as a base. More than a base, Israel is a place I love and know how to live in, while managing schoolwork, life, and hopefully an internship (if anyone reading this in Israel needs a Zionist intern with a digital marketing background starting in August, PLEASE contact me). What will make this experience particularly different than my previous times in Israel, however, is that I won’t be on a program.

Though studying as an international student at Tel Aviv University is itself a type of program, I won’t have my days planned out by others or be linked to an organization other than TAU. Rather, I’m going to be responsible for planning out my own schedule and classes. I am going to have to live self-sufficiently without the financial or structured support of a program. Similarly to how the First Aliyah did not fully succeed because the pioneers were too reliant on the financial security provided to them, I intend to embark on my own personal Second Aliyah, in which I go to Israel and rely on myself. Though my prior experiences were not a failure, they were not the type of true, organic Israel experiences that I crave from a standpoint of independence.

This time in Israel, I want to further explore my personal independence and resolve. I don’t want to resort to living on ten-shekel packs of pita, as I have a tendency to do while in Israel, just because it’s easy and delicious. Instead, I want to push myself to face my fears of cooking, and not go to Benedict’s on a bi-weekly basis. I want to relearn why I first fell in love with Israel on an intimate level, like becoming familiar with the seasonal foods. I want to push myself to not approach Israel as a tourist, and to use my past experiences to enhance my future one.

I also want to start dreaming in Hebrew again. In order to do that, I’m going to have to forego the easy route and push myself to use my Hebrew. Ulpan will be a good start, but what I’m really going to need to do is speak more, WhatsApp more, and finally watch the second season of Fauda. I’m also looking forward to taking my academics more seriously. While I’m sure that I’ll have fun in Israel (how can you not?), fun isn’t my primary objective. If I wanted to have fun, I could easily stay in New Orleans. But my aim for this upcoming chavaya is to approach Israel with more consideration, rediscovering what it is about Israel’s history that captivates me.

The other new thing that I’ll have is time. In conjunction with more freedom, my visa-ratified five months will allow me to do things that I haven’t had enough time to do before. Specifically, I want to research my family’s history and connection to the founding of the state. Also, I’d like to spend at least five hours absorbing Independence Hall instead of being rushed down Rothschild. Just because I already know Israel doesn’t mean that I can’t learn more.

Though I’m not studying abroad in the traditional sense, I can’t imagine spending my fall semester anywhere else but Israel.

About the Author
Soldier in the IDF's International Cooperation Division as a liaison to the Jordanian Armed Forces. Also, a Tulane University graduate of Communication and English. A digital marketer and a skilled writer of emails.
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