Hello there! I’m Rebekah, and I am a junior geography major at the University of Richmond. I’m from Syria, Virginia, a small town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I love hiking, learning languages, archaeology, and Biblical history. This semester, I will be studying at the University of Haifa in Haifa, Israel. I was drawn to Israel because of its rich cultural, religious, and political significance in the world today. Founded in 1948, the State of Israel is home to a wide variety of Jewish people with heritages from all over the world, as well as Muslims, Christians, and other religious sects, creating complex dynamics of culture and national consciousness.
A few weeks ago, I called the Israeli Embassy to ask about something on the student visa application that was confusing me. The questions were in Hebrew, with English translations, and they were ordered like this:
Category of residence permit: Dates of previous stays in Israel:
I said to the receptionist who answered the phone, “I’m confused by this question. Which ‘category of residence permit’ would a student visa fall under?” to which she replied, after a moment’s pause, “See the question to the right, ‘dates of previous stays in Israel’? It is asking what category of residence permit you had during any previous stay in Israel.”
Oh, right. I knew that. Read the questions from right to left, just like the Hebrew language is read from right to left. I have a feeling this won’t be the only time this confuses my Indo-European brain.
A popular travel saying goes, “when you pack, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money”. I keep reminding myself of that as I try to cram four months’ worth of clothes — for weather ranging from chilly and rainy to hot and dry, and for occasions ranging from dining at nice restaurants to backpacking in the Galilee — into one suitcase.
On Monday, the 23rd, I begin a Hebrew Ulpan, an intensive language program that will meet for five hours of class (with an expected three hours of homework) five days a week for the first three weeks of my time in Haifa. Even though the intensity is a little intimidating, I am really excited at the prospect of completely immersing myself in a language, with no other classes to distract me.
My younger brother observed the other day, “Life is like a grapefruit. It’s up to you how much you get out of it.” I thought that was quite wise, and have adopted it as my motto for this trip. I know I could take a passive approach to my time abroad, clinging as close as possible to what is familiar and comfortable, or I could actively immerse myself in the language and culture, seeking to gain as many experiences and life lessons as I possibly can in a few short months. I want to squeeze this grapefruit for all it is worth.
Am I nervous? Maybe a little. This won’t be my first solo international travel, but it will be the first without a familiar face to greet me at the other end. But I am much more excited than nervous. I’m excited about the people, the language, and the beautiful land with all the incredible spiritual significance it holds.