Not goodbye, just "see you soon"
As the regular semester (and my 15 blog posts!) wind to a close, I thought I would take the time to reflect on my time in Jerusalem. I'll be here a bit longer, as the art school has an extended semester, and after the semester ends I plan to travel in Israel and Europe. However, my roommates are starting to think about packing up and final papers and exams are in full swing (starting with my Hebrew listening exam this Thursday -- wish me luck!)
I arrived in Israel with limited Hebrew, no friends, and no coat (I was under the misimpression that because Israel is a lot of desert it would feel like summer even in January!) I had typical "new-place" worries about the semester: would I get along with my roommates? (Absolutely) Would I like my classes? (Yes) Would there be a lot of homework? (Yes) And some worries that were much more specific to Israel: Would I be miserable so far from home? (No) Would it be impossible to get by with my very basic Hebrew skills? (You'll learn!) How dangerous is the Middle East, really? (Both more and less dangerous than you thought).
My first few weeks (and the 100+ hours of learning Hebrew I got through in the Ulpan immersion program) helped assuage many of those worries. As the semester went on I fell in love with my friends and roommates, my classes, and this beautiful country. I have learned so much this semester, both expected (28 chapters in a Hebrew textbook!) and not (eggplant can apparently be delicious if cooked well). From cooking and budgeting to international relations and Arabic slang, the experiential learning I've gotten this semester has equaled if not surpassed the classroom learning I've had.
So if I had to give one big life lesson about study abroad (other than GO!!!) it would be to do everything and anything offered to you. Yes, some things will be disasters (ex: getting stuck without transport in a rural part of the desert) but even those will be exciting and transformative and test you in ways you didn't think possible. And the good things? The people and places and languages and meals you encounter abroad will change your life. Not to be melodramatic, but I'm definitely a different person now than I was 5 months ago when I landed in Ben Gurion international airport (and not just because I can now curse in English, Hebrew and Arabic!!)
Israel has taught me to relax, to go with the flow and trust that everything will be "קל בסדר" (all ok) in the end. I've learned how to deal with complications myself, and (perhaps more importantly, at least for a stubbornly independent person like myself) how to ask for help and reach out when I need it. I've learned how to make friends with just a few shared phrases and a lot of hand gestures and smiles, and how to lose friends: how to grieve for someone who died too young and how to honor their memory.
I will miss Israel, and the incredible friends I've made here, but I also learned another Hebrew phrase here: "ישראל תהיה שם כדי שתחזור הביתה" -- Israel will always be there for you to come home to.