Oh my! What a week, and what a place!
Last Thursday I joined up with my OSP (Overseas Student Program) group at the Tel Aviv Airport. All of us were tired and jet-lagged but excited to finally meet each other. I got to know many of them during the drive from the airport to Ben Gurion’s campus in Beer Sheva and was immediately struck by the group’s diversity in age and origin. Most people who are staying for the Ulpan (six-week Hebrew intensive language course for immigrants) and the semester or year are in their junior year of university. But many students who are only here for the Ulpan are older adults that want to improve their language skills. Collectively, the OSP has members from the United States, Spain, England, Germany (they’re everywhere!), Columbia and France. Love!
After dropping our bags at the dorms on Thursday (more on that in a later post, but my room is tiny, simple and sufficient) we headed to the nearest Safeway-like store. Because Shabbat begins Friday, many families were there buying food to cook at home for the weekend. It was a zoo! I grabbed some snacks for our weekend orientation trip, stared at awe in the extensive dried fruit, nut and grain selection, familiarized myself with what Israeli shampoo and conditioner looks like and navigated some legit supermarket lines.
We headed out early Friday morning for our Ulpan trip. First stop was Ben Gurion’s hut at Sde Boker. If you don’t know who Ben Gurion was, look him up. Essential Israeli political figure! The hut in the kibbutz at Sde Boker was where Ben Gurion retired after his service as prime minister. After touring the hut (which was more like a small home) we visited his grave site. The view from the site was breathtaking— sweeping view of the Negev desert, plateaus, canyons, and valleys. It’s a different kind of beautiful than I am used to, but none the less incredible.
Next was a quick tourista stop at the Dead Sea (Yes, I floated. Yes, it was awesome. Yes, it was salty.) and then off to a youth hostel for the evening. Relatively sure this was the nicest hostel I have ever had the pleasure of staying at. Clean, well furnished and quiet. Not to mention the **insane** views of the Dead Sea off of our private balcony.
Friday night we had Shabbat dinner at the hostel. During Shabbat, I enjoyed talking to people about why they chose to come to Israel. What is especially cool about studying here is that most people have a very specific reason why they came. I feel like this is going to really bind our group together— as everyone has some sort of personal or academic connection that drove them here in addition to a general interest to study abroad. Awesome.
Saturday morning we hiked to waterfalls and natural pools at Ein Gedi, a perfect way to cool off in the 100+ F desert heat, and then drove back to Beer Sheva after the sunset. Since arriving back in Beer Sheva, our days have been full of logistics and meetings. Lots of forms and security questions are required to get anything from wifi in my room, to access the pool and gym. We’ve also had meetings to decide which level of Ulpan to start in (I’m in “Alef” because I know absolutely zero), what to do if a rocket siren starts blaring (“Look for an Israeli and do what they do. Get in a rocket shelter. Don’t be stupid.”), and how to get medical care if needed (won’t even bother you with the complexity of this one). Israeli bureaucracy at its finest!
On a lighter note, today I had my first day of Ulpan, which will run Sunday thru Thursday, for six weeks. We learned the alphabet and a few simple Hebrew phrases. “Israelis ask a lot of questions,” my teacher told us, “So you need to be able to ask a lot of questions in Hebrew too— and have a lot of answers!” Many Israelis say the Ulpan program is incredibly effective so we will see. I might just come home trilingual!
That’s all for now. And, as far as friends, don’t worry, I’m making them! I won’t bore you with extensive biographies of each of them now, but eventually, they will get mentioned. So many curious, fun, intelligent, blunt, shameless and kind people here. It’s the best.
Sending my love to each of you.