My time in Israel has been some of the most culturally meaningful of my life. I love this country and what I’ve learned over the past few months is something that will stick with me forever. I now realize why it’s so important for people to leave their section of the world, even if it’s just for a few days/weeks. I am absolutely positive that I am not the same person I left behind in Connecticut on February 8th and you know what? I kinda love that.
Okay, now I realize how unreasonable that sounds. It’s only been four months and I’m still the same me: same personality, same likes/dislikes, same appearance (albeit slightly more freckly from all the sun!). However, I’ve had so many new life experiences in a culture so different from my own that I certainly have a changed mentality/outlook on life.
For one, I feel like I’m much more open to the idea of “not having a plan.” If there’s one thing that Israel has taught me, it’s that not knowing exactly what you want to do in life is perfectly okay. In fact, it’s more than okay, it’s appreciated. Before I left for Israel I was working jobs that were not necessarily the end-goal for my life. Being a fulltime babysitter/medical records filing girl/college tour guide/waitress were not exactly childhood dreams. While my friends that I graduated with were moving on to real “career” jobs, I was stuck in no-man’s land. Not that I didn’t love my time after college–I lived on a farm with five other awesome people, I had fantastic co-workers, and I can’t imagine it any other way! But at the time I felt a bit purposeless amongst a sea of people with purpose.
However, once I got to Israel my viewpoint opened up entirely. For starters, most of the people in my program are in exactly the same boat. We’re all college graduates who don’t necessarily want to start our “forever jobs” immediately. I’ve met so many hilarious, wonderful, interesting people who are also postponing real life in favor of post-college travel and volunteerism. I’ve come to consider this point in my life as the much-needed world education following my formal education (and I would not be the same without it).
In addition to living with people who are at a similar crossroads, the Israeli view on this matter is completely different from the American point-of-view. In the United States most people graduate from high school and move forward to college at the age of 18. There is no gap, no time-off, no nothing–we just continue on with our education. In Israel, however, the mandatory army service does not allow for the immediate continuation of education. At 18 years old Iraelis are expected to start their army service–this service lasts two years for women and three years for men. When Israelis finally get out of the army around 20-22 years old the last thing they want to do is throw themselves into a demanding college program. With the accumulated money received from serving (which isn’t a lot, but at least it’s something) most army “graduates” decide to travel the world. For some reason (I’m pretty sure due to the ease of getting a Visa) these post-army twenty-somethings travel to either India or South America. After they return from the trips (which range anywhere from 8 months-5 years), they might consider going to college or perhaps they’ll work various jobs before they take that leap. Israelis don’t take college lightly. Unless you’re absolutely 100% positive about what degree you want to get, college is not an option–and I think this is beyond smart. This gives the post-army Israelis an opportunity to see the world and truly figure out what they want to do before making the educational commitment. It’s not uncommon for students to graduate from college around the age of 29 or 30. That’s pretty much the norm.
With the realization that most of these students won’t start their “career jobs” until their late 20s/early 30s it makes me feel better about my own situation. I may be slow in terms of figuring out what I want to do with my life, but hey, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the same boat. I love the relaxed Israeli mentality and I can now better appreciate where I am in my life because of it.
I feel like living in this country has made me a stronger more independent person. I do things with more confidence than I did before. Small issues start to seem extremely unimportant and I’ve discovered that I am much more capable than I initially thought. Navigating national bus systems in a different language/alphabet? No problem. Cooking food that I’m completely and utterly unfamiliar with? Sounds good. Hiking down a cliff at a 90-degree angle with absolutely nothing between you and the treacherous rocks below? Not something I want to relive, but did I do it? You bet your ass I did.
One of my goals this year is to do more things that take me out of my comfort zone. I decided to stop limiting myself by my own self-constructed barriers and just go for it. This is where that goal has taken me–I think I’m doing pretty well with the mission.
I could continue on for days about all the ways that Israel has changed me, but I realize that most of you are probably already bored by this long-winded post! I’ll leave you with this one last story/experience. A few weeks after I graduated from college I was kind of freaking out about where my life was headed. All of my friends were starting their real jobs and I felt stuck/limited by my indecision. My best friend Elisa (the same one who came to visit!), her dad Peter, and I all went out to breakfast one morning to talk a little bit about life. Peter kept telling me that it was okay to not know what I wanted in life and that this was my time to explore. He recommended traveling the world, bouncing around a little bit, and taking advantage of the post-college freedom I had. At the time I was pretty stressed out and it was hard to take in all of that advice, but I can say that the conversation gave me the extra push I needed to apply for this Israel program. And with that decision I feel like I am truly living my life. I’m not sure I would have moved to another country had it not been for the confidence that this conversation gave me and I am truly truly grateful.
Ultimately, I realize that taking some time off from graduate school/a forever career was just about the smartest decision I’ve ever made. I see the world in a different way, a way that would not have been possible without the last four months. If there’s anyone out there considering living in another country for a few months/yearsDO IT DO IT DO IT.I cannot stress what an amazing experience it is and how deeply it will transform your life. It is totally do-able and as with all life experiences, somehow you’ll land on your feet!
Okay, now it’s time for me to turn off my serious button. Who knew I even had one? Lyla tov v’ shabbat shalom! (Good night and have a great shabbat!)