Why did you choose this program?
I went on the Entrepreneurship and Business program at Tel Aviv University (TAU). I chose to study abroad in Israel because I had a friend that studied abroad here a few years ago and really enjoyed her experience. I’m also very passionate about startups and technology and met a lot of Israeli founders in the U.S. who described how unique the ecosystem is in Israel. The combination of being able to experience this ecosystem for myself outside of the classroom and to take classes that would give me a different perspective in my Engineering Entrepreneurship minor made it a very appealing program for me.
How were classes different from classes at Penn?
My classes were different than Penn in that they were smaller, more casual, and assignments/midterms were due less frequently. The most striking difference was the casual relationship between professors and students. The culture in Israel is very direct and promotes a flat structure. I found that students in my classes were very willing to question what professors said and professors were receptive and encouraging of this.
What was the hardest adjustment you had to make when you arrived? How did you handle that?
The hardest adjustment I had to make when I arrived was acclimating myself to an environment where I was such an outsider. It was my first time in Israel which was not the case for many of the other people in my program and I don’t speak Hebrew and am not Jewish. At first, I really struggled with this feeling of “other-ness”, especially when I experienced racism or micro aggressions, but ultimately I was able to cope with this by surrounding myself with good people. I made amazing friends in the program who knew more about Israel than me and were incredibly inclusive and welcoming. They were able to show me all that Israel has to offer and were open to hearing about my experiences as well.
What were some of the extracurricular activities that you engaged in while abroad?
I joined club swim at TAU which I enjoyed because I got to meet some students at the school who weren’t in the study abroad program. Since most of my classes were in the international school, the only way I got to meet local Israelis was by opportunities I created for myself. Swimming was a really fun way for me to do this and it was also nice to have an activity that kept me active and was part of my life back at home as well.
What surprised you the most about your study abroad experience?
The most surprising part about my study abroad experience was how immersive the language learning experience was. We spent the first four weeks in an intensive Hebrew language learning class which I really appreciated because it made it a little easier to navigate living in Israel after that. Even though a lot of things were in English and most people spoke to English, the default language was Hebrew which was challenging but also really cool because it was so different than living in the U.S.
What is your favorite moment or memory from your time abroad?
My favorite moment or memory from abroad was when two of my roommates from Penn came to visit me in Tel Aviv. It was both of their first times in Israel and I was so happy to spend the weekend showing them around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We hung out with some of my friends from the program and traded stories from our abroad experiences. It felt so surreal that a few months ago we were all living together and then all moved to different countries for study abroad.
How did your abroad experience help you grow?
My study abroad experience helped me be more open to meeting new people. Since I was moving to a country where I didn’t know anyone well, I had to be very proactive about developing meaningful connections. In addition to making new friends in Tel Aviv, I also learned how much I enjoy starting conversations with strangers when I’m traveling. I became more outgoing about approaching strangers and learned a lot from people from all over the world that I befriended.
How did you feel coming back to Penn after your program?
I’m looking forward to coming back to Penn after my program. I enjoyed studying abroad and made a lot of great friends here who I know I will stay in touch with when I’m back in the U.S. I’ve also developed a nice routine here and gained new perspectives on things such as work, school, and what I want to do with my life that I hope to bring back with me. That being said, I’m excited to reconnect with friends at Penn and to rejoin the extracurriculars I’m involved with on campus.
What advice would you give to another student planning to go on this program?
My advice to another student planning to go on this program is to keep an open mind. There are a lot of expectations around the Middle East, especially with how the media portrays it, but I would encourage students going on this program to explore it on their own terms and form their own opinion. I would also encourage them to spend time really getting to know the area. I spent most of my trips within the region getting to know Israel and the West Bank which I’m really thankful that I had the opportunity to do.