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CU Abroad – Samara Levy

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Water Water Everywhere?

Throughout my time here in Israel and in the Negev, I have been gaining more insight on how important the water issue is. There is a more general awareness here amongst Israelis than I have seen in the states. The general public is aware and concerned about the water scarcity issue and recognizes the importance of conservation. I get a slap on the wrist from my roommates if I leave the water running for too long while doing dishes and we turn the water on and off throughout a shower when it is not essential to use it.

Things are a bit trickier to solve when it comes to the issue of sharing water with the countries around Israel. Can a water agreement be reached amongst the neighboring nations?

As I discussed in a much earlier blog, I am doing a research project while here in Israel on the water allocation of the Mountain Aquifer between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Throughout my time here, I have been analyzing data to see what each riparian state thinks the other state is consuming. It turns out, there are many discrepancies in the amount of water that each party believes the other is extracting and using from the Mountain Aquifer.

How can an agreement be made on sharing the transboundary water resource if the two parties involved cannot agree on the current consumption? This has been my major question. Water is such an important resource to every living being and in areas of water scarcity, being able to share what is provided is crucial for sustainability.

The last aspect of my project includes interviewing water experts on their opinion regarding the discrepancies in the data as well as the possibility of creating an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I will be traveling to Tel Aviv on Sunday to meet with different people including representatives from the Israel Water Authority. I am excited to discuss this topic of concern and see what professionals working in these fields have to say.

I’ll let you know what I find out!

A Second Home.

Time is flying at a scary rate. How is it May? May. January just passed, February too. And to be honest, I have no clue where I was during March and April. My time here is becoming a blur and I am scared to embark on what will be my last few weeks of this adventure. Israel has most certainly become my home.

Transportation here is so simple. Buses and trains are easily accessible from every place you want to go. The funny thing is that Israelis hate to go more than an hour in a car, it is too long. They will tell you that Eilat (the southernmost city in Israel) is like going to another country; however, in reality it is probably just a 4 hour drive from where they live in the center of Israel. Anyway, the ease of transportation has most definitely been the most amazing assistance in my time here. Every weekend I can be off to a new part of the country without much difficulty or planning.

In the North of Israel by the Kinneret!

In the North of Israel by the Kinneret!

View from Rosh Hanikra - Northwestern point in Israel

View from Rosh Hanikra - Northwestern point in Israel

One of my favorite aspects to my semester abroad is how much I have been able to see. From the north to the south, Israel is filled with different landscapes. I live in Be’er Sheva, the desert. I am a one-hour bus from the beach, one hour from Jerusalem, three hours from the green mountains of the north, and less than two hours from the rocky mountains near the dead sea. A country the size of New Jersey, but there is so much to explore. This land is filled with the most beautiful places I have ever seen, pictures cannot capture it.

The Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea.

Poland.

I have just returned from my eight days in Poland.

It was not a vacation. It was not a sight-seeing adventure.

These past eight days were spent observing, feeling, understanding, learning, and trying to believe. They were eight days focused on the Holocaust and the attempted destruction of the Jewish people. Eight days of conversation, tears, anger, confusion, and disbelief. Not a vacation, but an important journey.

I was able to participate in this Poland tour that was organized for students studying abroad in Israel. Before the opportunity arose for me to travel with this group I had never thought that Poland was a place I felt that I needed to visit. Before this trip I honestly did not even realize that so much of the Holocaust’s horror occurred in Poland. I had a lot to learn.

While there was time to see the cities we traveled to, the purpose and focus of the trip was to visit and tour the old Jewish ghettos, labor camps, concentration camps, and death camps. Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka. Some camps still stood as if the treacherous murdering happened yesterday, and some places are only left as memorials with no indication of the tried annihilation. The Nazis worked to destroy all evidence, but the stories of the survivors are indestructible and power through the ruins of the gas chambers.

I left Poland in disbelief. I have learned about the Holocaust throughout elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. I have read books, heard stories, and watch movies. I thought I knew what had happened, but the more I saw, the more I could not understand. For much of the trip I was numb. My body was in a state of extreme emotion and I began to feel nearly immune to the pain of hearing the stories and seeing the abandoned barracks that used to house thousands of prisoners.  All I can think about is how this did not happen that long ago. Nearly seventy years. There are still living survivors.

I was in Krakow where thousands of Jews used to live before the war. Today there are 120.

I was in Tarnow where there are now nearly no Jews.

I was in Warsaw where before the war, every third person was Jewish; hundreds of thousands of Jews. Today there are about 4,000 Jews living there, the largest Jewish population in Poland. There used to be 400 active synagogues in Warsaw, today there is one.

These numbers only added to my incomprehensible numbness.

After the eight days, I arrived back in Israel on Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust remembrance day. At 11am on this day a loud siren resounds loudly throughout the entire nation. I was walking from class when this happened. Ever single person stood still, not matter where they were. Cars stopped in the middle of the street and the drivers exited their vehicles to stand outside. The nation was silent. The nation was remembering. To be back in Israel and seeing the life and pride that still shines through the Jewish people brought me back to life after being in one of the darkest places I can image.

No Bread? No Problem!

Each Pesach families throughout the world sit around the dinner table to enjoy a large Seder of food, wine, and song. At the conclusion of the festival meal, each table hopes that the next year they will be in the land of Israel. This year, I was in Israel, I did not need to wish I was anywhere else.

During Pesach, Jews give up bread, wheat products, corn, legumes, and a few other things in order to signify the rush the Jews exhibited as they fled from Egypt. There was not enough time to even let their bread rise.  While I normally spend this holiday at Cornell and carry around my matzos (unleavened bread that is okay to eat during Pesach) to class and the dining hall and my essentially no-carb diet is something to dread, this year, I was able to indulge in some amazing kosher for Pesach food. Israelis know food well.

Pesach Seder.

Pesach Seder.

Besides the amazing food, the feeling of Pesach is felt throughout the country. This seven-day holiday was essentially my spring break from school. I used the time to travel throughout Israel, spending time with families and friend. The first few days are special because they involve the Seder meal and many family gatherings. My Israeli friends here invited me to their Seders and Pesach family lunches, which are full-family affairs. Unlike in America, entire families live near each other in Israel and gather for all of the holidays. Forty aunts, uncles, and cousins attended my friend’s Pesach lunch, forty. I was shocked to see so many people over for the holiday and then I realized that in Israel, almost everyone celebrates these Jewish festivals and so it is expected to be together. I love this. I love the nature and meaning of family here.  Like I said, you can feel the holidays and Shabbats throughout the entire country. There is a calm that spreads throughout the streets, neighborhoods, and towns. Each home is then illuminated with life and familial love with a joyous celebration of the Jewish culture and tradition.

Northern Lights.

It is near the end of March and Pesach (a Jewish holiday also known as Passover) begins tonight. My university has just begun our “spring break” and I spent the first Shabbat weekend of my break with one of my roommates, someone who has become one of my closest friends here in Israel, Smadar. She lives in Ma’alot, a city far north in Israel. It is the most north I have ever traveled to in the country and I was very excited to spend the Shabbat with her family. While I was there, I learned that Ma’alot is a very interesting city with an atmosphere that is unique to many parts of Israel.

Ma'alot - Beautiful Northern Israel

Ma'alot - Beautiful Northern Israel

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My roommate Smadar on the beach in Naharyya.

To give you an idea of how far north I traveled, Be’er Sheva שבע בר  (where I live) is the most southern city you can travel to by train and Naharyya ריהנה is the most northern city you can travel to by train (a three hour journey). Smadar met me in Naharyya and we then took a thirty-minute bus even farther north to Ma’alot. The north of the country is beautiful and very different from the Negev. Just nearly four hours from the hot, arid, rocky, desert lives the rolling hills and mountains of lush green trees, flowers and gardens that mark the northern beauty of Israel.

Visiting an Israeli family is without fail an amazing treat. They always love you, always want to feed you, and Shabbat in Israel is the most relaxing part of the week a person can imagine, religious or not. Smadar’s family is amazing. Her parents only speak Hebrew and so I was relying on my three semesters at Cornell and six weeks of Ulpan to carry me through the weekend (and a little translation help from Smadar). Even with a small language barrier, I felt completely loved. The second I walked through the doors of her home I was welcomed with open arms and immediately asked if I wanted coffee or tea. The Israeli culture is incredibly warm and generous. Sharing is not even a question and after a few hours it is inevitable to feel as if you are welcome to anything in the refrigerator without asking, simply because you are. Having Israeli roommates and friends here who are always more than eager to bring you home to their family is one of the most amazing aspects of my abroad program. I can always feel at home, even when Boston is thousands of miles away.

Smadar took me to the shuk in Tarshiha תרשיחא, an Arab village next to Ma’alot. The shuk was fun and colorful (even with the rain), as are all of the shuks in Israel; however, there is something interesting about this village and its connection to Ma’alot. Ma’alot and Tarshiha live together in a peaceful united way. Unique to many areas throughout the country where Israelis and Arabs live together, these two communities have a shared government. They have the same city hall, and the mayor, a Jewish Israeli, is the same person for both areas. Both Israelis and Arabs work in the city’s government together to benefit both the city of Ma’alot and the village of Tarshiha. It was incredible to learn about how Arabs and Israelis can coexist in peace together and the duel government these areas have established.

Ma'alot-Tarshiha City Hall.

Ma'alot-Tarshiha City Hall.

Ma’alot also houses an international sculpture festival. Artists from around the world travel to this small city to carve beautiful sculptures around the small lake that was recently built. During Pesach the statutes are distributed to public arenas throughout the city. On my long walks this weekend I passed by many different and unique sculptures that span twenty years of work. Since it is almost Pesach, there were many artists surrounding the boarders of the lake preparing their statues for the Pesach festival. These beautiful pieces surround the city and add a cultural impact that I was not expecting when planning my weekend to Smadar’s house.

An artist finishing his sculpture for the festival.

An artist finishing his sculpture for the festival.

My last interesting connection with Ma’alot is much more personal. Upon telling my dad about my weekend travels before I left, he told me that the one and only time he visited Israel was with the Jewish Agency to build a cultural artisan center in Ma’alot. This small place in the north was my dad’s destination for the only time he has ever spent in the land I am now calling home. I was amazed. Of course I went to the center, took pictures, and found a certain connection to my own family.

Sunday evening, with a stomach full of incredible Sephardi food, I traveled the coast of the country on a three-hour train ride back to the south, back to Be’er Sheva.

Peacocks at the Ma'alot zoo!

Peacocks at the Ma'alot zoo!

Hebrew word of the blog: Family = משפחה Meshpucha

Drops of Water.

Well classes are now well under way and I have become re-acclimated to my new schedule, new faces, and new courses. Part of my desire to study in Israel was due to my academic interest in water scarcity and conflict and I was eager to begin exploring this topic in a place where water is limited and conflict is present. I am taking two classes this semester pertaining to this subject. One is a lecture course on water resource management and policy in the Middle East. The second is a small independent research seminar where I conduct my own research project and write a final report on my findings.

While Hiking the Negev's small crater - Mactesh Katan  המכתש הקטן

While Hiking the Negev's small crater - Mactesh Katan המכתש הקטן

The purpose of my research project is to explore the current management and allocation of groundwater resources between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I plan to do this through developing a reasonable policy agreement for the utilization of shared groundwater resources.  It is important to identify how the water is allocated from Israel to the Palestinians in the West Bank in order to gain insight on appropriate agreements that could be initiated. The agreement will focus on the sharing of the Mountain Aquifer, the most significant groundwater source shared by both Israelis and Palestinians. This Mountain aquifer is critical to both regions and has become threatened by pollution and resource exploitation and so the project also plans to assess issues of water contamination as well as current political disagreements.

A taste of the Negev: a picture from hiking Ein Ovdat

A taste of the Negev: a picture from hiking Ein Ovdat

My favorite aspect to my project is my goal to investigate the opinions of people using the water through interviews. In gaining knowledge from the people who actually live in this region and benefit (or wish to benefit) from the transboundary resource, there will be a more realistic perspective on the realities of how a successful agreement will be outlined.

Water is available (or scarce) in different ways; wells, aquifers, lakes, rivers, basins. I decided to focus on groundwater because it is an essential resource especially in arid regions; however, there is still a lacking presence of groundwater management precedents in International Water Law. There appears to be little legislation between Israel and the Palestinians surrounding their shared groundwater resources and creating a plausible bilateral agreement on the management of the shared aquifer is a relatively unique project.

I am excited to get started on my research and have the chance to connect the place I live in with a subject I have been interested in since my the beginning of my sophomore year at Cornell. However, this all is about to be put on hold for a few weeks. I am about to begin my Pesach vacation and then I will be traveling to Poland. While it seems as though I just returned from Istanbul (which is partially true), the time here is moving and I am latching on to it with both hands as best as I can. In this next week I hope to travel and enjoy spending Pesach in Israel. During the Pesach seder (a large family dinner where the Passover story of the Jew’s exodus from Egypt is recounted and remembered) people around the world say with hope that the next year they will be in the Land of Israel to celebrate.

I do not need to wait a year, I am here.

Hebrew word of the blog: Water = מים Mayim

Explorations and Escapades!

After six weeks of studying Hebrew for three hours every morning, my Ulpan class came to a close and I had ten days to travel and enjoy a break before the start of classes.  I packed a large backpack and a purse for all ten days and for the first time in my life I was able to succeed in the ultimate traveling goal of packing light.

My next week and a half consisted of a great deal of traveling around the middle part of Israel as well as a five day journey to Istanbul, Turkey with two of my friends I met on my program. We planned our Istanbul trip in only about three weeks and I was so excited to embark on my first international trip that I planned for myself by myself.

After I completed my Ulpan class final exam I ran to my apartment to finish packing and left with my program to spend the afternoon touring Tel Aviv, a large city in the center part of Israel. Tel Aviv is lively and full of color with cafes, shops, a diversity of people, and beautiful blue beaches. One aspect of Tel Aviv that is not well known is the poverty and desperation among foreign immigrants who live in southern Tel Aviv. The beginning of our tour purposefully took us to the area around the old bus station where we were exposed to the poor underdeveloped part of the city ridden with drug use and prostitution. I have traveled to Tel Aviv a few times and while this is a common state of existence for major cities around the world, it was hard to believe that this scene existed amongst the high fashion shops and beautiful people walking along the popular streets most tourists become accustomed with during a visit to the area.

Tel Aviv at sunset

Tel Aviv at sunset

After the tour I remained in Tel Aviv for two nights. I spent my time in the more mainstream area and relaxed on the beach. It was a nice vacation from my daily studies and responsibilities I have begun to gain while studying in Beer Sheva.

Ready to go to Istanbul!

Ready to go to Istanbul!

After my two days in Tel Aviv I was off to the airport for my trip to Istanbul, Turkey! I left very early in the morning, but once I got to Istanbul I was beaming with excitement. My friends and I were in awe of the city filled with many beautiful gigantic mosques and old architectural buildings; however, we had slight nerves about traveling there as well. Currently, the relations between Israel and Turkey are not ideal. Upon arriving, I needed to cover the Hebrew on my backpack with duck tape and try to forget to use all of the Hebrew I had just spent six weeks learning. I found this to be of great difficulty. Hebrew has become a major aspect of my life abroad and I use the language intertwined with English. However, I had been told that abandoning my Hebrew knowledge for the next five days was important in order to insure minimal difficulty while traveling. This was the only time I felt nervous about living in Israel, and ironically enough I was not even in the country.

View from the top of the Prince's Island.

View from the top of the Prince's Island.

Istanbul was an amazing adventure. Our first full day was packed with seeing the sights; Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Basillica Cistern, and the Hippodrome. On our second day my friends and I planned a day trip across the Sea of Marmara to the Princes Islands. I think if I had to pick my favorite day, this would be it. The islands are free of advanced modes of transportation and to travel around in a “taxi”, we used a horse and buggy carriage. Our day on the big island was primarily spent hiking up to a monastery where the most remarkable view of Istanbul and Turkey was revealed. It was incredible.

In front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

In front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

During my third and fourth days I went to the Egyptian Spice market and the Grand Bazaar. I also traveled by ferry to the Anatolian (or Asian) side of Istanbul.  One of the coolest parts about this city is that it sits on two different continents (Europe and Asia). The Asian side is primarily residential, but it has a large fish market filled with fresh fish, vegetables, and dried fruit. While I spent most of my time in Turkey on the European side, it was a unique experience to find myself on another continent after only a twenty-minute ferryboat ride. Besides the touring, the rest of my travels in Istanbul can be marked by the delicious food. Turkish delight and baklava are everywhere and for good reason, these desserts were incredibly delicious. The streets are filled with vendors selling fresh bread and sweet treats for a very cheap cost.

My friends and I in front of Topkapi Palace.

My friends and I in front of Topkapi Palace.

After five days of minimal sleep, I returned to Israel happy to be home and ready to rest; however, I was not going to be back in Beer Sheva for three more nights. I spent one night in a suburb of Tel Aviv called Hod Hasharon and the next two days were in Herzliya, a city by the beach about twenty minutes from Tel Aviv.  Purim, a Jewish holiday where everyone dresses up in costume, was about to begin and everyone I saw was already getting ready by donning hilarious costumes. Adults and children alike all get very engaged in the dressing up and celebrations of this Jewish holiday and I am very excited to be back in Israel to experience it. While abroad in Turkey I came to realize that Israel has truly become my new home away from home.

Hebrew word of the blog: Trip = טיול Tiul

This Land was made for You and Me.

Immigration. These past two weeks have led me to experience life with Ethiopian Jews who live in Israel.  I have been volunteering in both an Ethiopian heritage community center and in a garden at an Ethiopian immigrant absorption center. Besides my volunteering experience, I also watched a Hebrew movie in my Ulpan class on the journey and struggle of Ethiopian Jews who immigrate to Israel and I went on a field trip to an Ethiopian artisan center. With high hopes of a successful future and an escapement from an oppressive past, these immigrants come to Israel with a sense of belonging, but it has taken time for them to achieve that.

It was only a few hundred years ago that Ethiopian Jews thought that they were the only Jews living in the world. It was not until the first modern contact made in 1769 by a Scottish explorer, that they learned other Jews existed. He found about 100,000 practicing Ethiopian Jews while exploring the Nile River. Years later, Operation Moses in 1984 began to bring these Jews to Israel. Today, There is a large Ethiopian population in Be’er Sheva, Israel. The land is much less expensive and there are absorption centers in this area where immigrants are able to adjust to life as Israeli citizens.

The movie that was shown in class revealed how difficult it is for these immigrants to acclimate to life in Israel. Upon arrival, they must pass through a series of questions, which insure that they are in fact of Jewish heritage. Families are often separated and children are placed with foster parents. For children, acclimation to school is a challenge because other children and parents see them as different. The movie showed how people feared diseases and thought that their children would be learning at a lower level if Ethiopian students were in the class. As time has progressed, there has been more of a welcoming nature toward Ethiopian Jews who come to Israel and I hope that there continues to be a more positive and trusting environment toward these new immigrants.

At the community center I volunteer at, I am with mostly second-generation children who were born in Israel and whose parents immigrated. I help them with their homework, tutor in English, and just hang out. Most of these children speak very little English, so I have been relying on my Hebrew to communicate. They are incredibly warm and inviting. After only one visit at the center, they remembered my name and were eager to for me to help them learn. They are also patient and helpful as I speak to them in Hebrew; it is a learning experience for both of us. At the absorption center, the children and families have recently immigrated to Israel and are spending a few years becoming adjusted to their new lives. There is a large environmental awareness in these communities and Israeli volunteers are working to garden, compost, recycle, and build in these areas.

Outside of my time spent volunteering and in Ulpan class, I have been continuing my explorations and acclimations to life in Israel. My first three weekends were spent in Ein Gedi, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Dizengoff in Tel Aviv

Dizengoff in Tel Aviv

The Western Wall הכתל המערבי in Jerusalem

The Western Wall הכתל המערבי in Jerusalem

After three weekends of travel, I spent the past two weekends in Be’er Sheva.  I want to make this city my home and find comfort in the community I am living in. Be’er Sheva weekends are low key and relaxing. I catch up on sleep and often spend time at a 1948 war memorial we call “The Monument”, which is a thirty minute hike from the dorms. Once at the top all of Be’er Sheva is revealed and the pockets of land with zero development are seen as dark areas of nothingness at sunset.

The Monument

The Monument

Last weekend was the holiday Tu B’Shvat, the “New Year for Trees.” As a program we planted trees in an area of the desert that used to be a forest, and then participated in a Tu B’Shvat Seder of dried fruit and juices. On Friday night, my friends and I made a pot luck Shabbat dinner where about 12 of us all agreed on bringing specific food dishes and joined together at a friend’s apartment for the Shabbat meal. The candles were lit, we said a prayer over the wine and bread, and enjoyed an amazing Shabbat meal as a new family of friends. As I mentioned in my last blog, religious or not, families gather together every Friday night to share a large Shabbat meal and take the evening to relax. While I like to travel and spend Shabbat with different families, it was an amazing comfort to share this Shabbat dinner with my new friends.

Planting a tree on Tu B'Shvat!

Planting a tree on Tu B'Shvat!

Site of Ben Gurion's grave at Sde Boker

Site of Ben Gurion's grave at Sde Boker

This past weekend I visited David Ben Gurion’s house and gravesite. As a former Prime Minister of Israel, Ben Gurion’s vision was to “settle the Negev.” He found great importance in the vast deserted desert land and claimed it to be a crucial aspect to the land of Israel. As a result, he spent his time developing and cultivating the land.  The implementation of my university was with his vision to “make the desert bloom” and create life in the Negev. After learning more about Ben Gurion and understanding his story, I have definitely found a greater importance in where I am studying. There is so much land to see while I am here and so many areas to explore. The Desert is filled with hiking trails and scenic views and eventhough I have already been here for a month, I am just beginning to understand the importance of the Negev.

Hebrew word of the blog: Chamaniot חמניות = Sunflower

Welcome to the Holy Land, where yogurt and milk both come in cartons.

I’ve landed, climbed Masada, and ate falafel. My time in Israel has officially begun.

After an eleven-hour flight and three hours of sleep over a forty-eight hour time period, I landed in Tel Aviv and made my way to Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Be’er Sheva.  After giving us just an hour to settle in, we walked thirty minutes to the supermarket. It must have been the most comical sight – twenty sleep deprived Americans searching through the aisles for food when everything is in Hebrew. The culture shock hit us all hard. While English is commonly spoken in Israel, it is less common in Be’er Sheva. After struggling to pay for my food with the cashier (not to mention make sure I purchased what I actually thought I was buying), I realized I was not home anymore. Let me just say I found out the next morning when I made my coffee that I bought yogurt instead of milk.

My first weekend in Israel was an orientation for the entire group in Ein Gedi (a beautiful area of natural springs). As a group of about 25 students and 2 counselors, we hiked up Masada, a rocky mountain that used to be an ancient empire. From the high elevation the vast terrain reveals miles of Israeli soil. Afterwards, I spent the afternoon floating in the Dead Sea.

View of Masada

View of Masada

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea

Israel weeks are different than in America. School and classes are Sunday through Thursday, and Friday and Saturday are the weekend. It seems as though the entire country shuts down on Shabbat (Friday night to Saturday night) – buses do not run and almost all of the stores are closed. The weekend is a relaxing time for good food, sleep, and conversation. This past weekend I traveled with two friends to Tel Aviv and ate Shabbat dinner with my friend’s family. In Israel it seems as though the mentality for Shabbat dinner is always “the more the merrier” and while not every family is religious, Shabbat has a cultural importance throughout the country as a time that brings together the entire family for a long delicious meal.

Be'er Sheva at Sunset

Be'er Sheva at Sunset

Now about two weeks into the program, I am finally beginning to feel acclimated. I am no longer scared when I walk into a grocery store, eventhough I still do not always know what I am buying, and my Hebrew has improved greatly. I have begun Ulpan, which is my intensive Hebrew language class where I will be studying Hebrew three hours a day for six weeks. I also live in the university dormitories in an apartment with three Israeli student roommates! They are so kind and have been a great help in progressing  my Hebrew. I try to talk to them in Hebrew as often as I can because I have learned that in the Negev, there is definitely a language barrier. Home to many Ethiopian and Bedouin people who have very limited English, the Negev works to collaborate volunteer English teachers to better bridge the language gap. In fact, today I spent part of my afternoon teaching English to Bedouin adults.

The diversity of the Negev is incredible. Living here exposes me to people and students from a variety of religions, ethnicities, and social backgrounds. Be’er Sheva is not a big busy city like Tel Aviv, and the arid landscape inhibits the ability for the growth of the lush greenery present in northern Israel; however, the city and student body of BGU is thriving. I am in a place where environmentalism and social equality is of the utmost importance and volunteerism is the backbone to the area’s success.

Hebrew word of the blog: Shutafa שותפה = Roommate

Nearing Take-off.

Fall semester 2010 is over. Finals are complete and all that is left is awaiting my posted grades for the semester. Now home, I am in full planning mode for my next six months abroad. I will be traveling to Be’er Sheva, Israel to study at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. I have been planning this trip for what seems to have been forever; real-life time of about 8 months. After spending three weeks in Israel this past summer I was certain that there was more to explore and found a connection with BGU as my abroad university.

Ben Gurion University is a campus sitting in the seventh largest city in Israel. Most college students who study abroad in Israel choose to spend there time in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, two large cities in Israel that allow for an experience greatly different from that of Cornell and rural Ithaca, NY. While I would have loved to try myself out in the city living of these two popular places, I chose a less common route. BGU is a growing university with about 17,000 students who travel from all over Israel to attend. BGU is a university that excels in environmental science. As a Natural Resources major I am eager to learn more about the water scarcity dilemma facing the Middle East and better understand the strain it is causing on the already tense region. While the Negev desert is not exactly filled with city lights, it offers its own unique culture and attitude.

This is a picture of one part of the Ben Gurion University campus.

This is a picture of one part of the Ben Gurion University campus.

One of the most difficult aspects of my preparation is realizing the length of time I will be abroad. I begin my journey with a group flight on January 6, 2010 and arrival in Israel on January 7. My ticket home is not until June 20, 2010.  Five and a half months. I thought this was a normal length of time to study abroad, but once my friends and I began discussing our travel plans this mid-November, I realized that my program is over a month longer than most. I am the first to leave and the last to come back. I am not able to return for senior week to see my friends off at graduation, nor can I adequately plan a summer job because I will only be spending half of my summer in the United States. I began to ruminate on doubts and nerves when I made this discovery. With many worries, fears, and nerves floating over me about my venture abroad, I tried to let my overwhelming excitement conquer over the doubt. And it did. While leaving Cornell last week was a challenge, I left. I said my goodbyes and brought home everything I own. Goodbye snow, hello desert!

My visa finally arrived two days ago and with a ticket and Hebrew-English dictionary in hand I am ready to go. With a new year’s countdown on the horizon, I am beginning my own countdown…10 days until take-off.

“The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is to have no fear at all.”

כל העולמ כלו גשר צר מאד והעקר לא לפנחד כלל

– Rabbi Nachman

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