Before traveling abroad to any new country, it’s wise to do your due diligence and research so that you are aware of the local customs and traditions. This is especially true if you don’t have experience traveling outside of your home country and have become “stuck in your ways”, so to speak. This is very typical of students who may not have had the opportunity to travel prior to entering college. Israel is one of the most common countries that students travel to as a part of study abroad programs. Due to Israel’s exceptional educational system and rich history, it’s easy to see why so many college students are opting to make it a destination.
Some would say that the "homeland" for the Jewish people has some of the friendliest people in the world. To think of the regional violence between Arabs and Jews as characteristic of Israel is not doing justice to the nation. There is much more than meets the eye. Sign up for a program, begin your study abroad travels, and experience Israeli culture for yourself.
If you’re a student or the parent of a student planning on studying abroad in Israel, here are 10 things you should know to make your stay fun and smooth.
1. The three major cities in Israel
Israel is not a huge country. It is about the size of New Jersey, the 5th-smallest US state. Despite the size, Israel is extremely diverse. Some outsiders picture Israel as a nation extremely focused on religion with traditional rules and values. While the country might be a little stricter than the U.S, for example, the entire country doesn’t share a unified perspective. The 3 major cities of Israel allow you to get a complete scope of what makes the nation so great:
- Jerusalem: One of the oldest cities in the world and Israel’s capital, Jerusalem is a city where West meets East and where people from all over the world meet and rejoice with its history and vibrant cultural scene.
- Tel Aviv: The most liberal and cosmopolitan area of the country, Tel Aviv is populated with young entrepreneurs, corporate offices and an exciting night life. Tel Aviv is also host to popular universities for international students.
- Haifa: As the third largest city in the country, Haifa is known for being industrial and for being the “working man's city”. It is a seaport located on Israel's Mediterranean shoreline, just below the ever beautiful Mount Carmel.
2. You don't have to know Hebrew
A popular misconception is that you must know Hebrew or have a translator if you plan on traveling through Israel. It’s actually quite the opposite! You will find that most, if not all, Israelis speak English. As a student, everyone on campus will likely speak English fluently so there won’t be a barrier of communication.
Regardless, if you are planning on spending a semester or extended period of time studying in Israel, it would be a shame to leave not knowing any of the local language. Speaking in a foreign tongue unlocks numerous cultural nuances that you can't simply understand from an English-speaking perspective. Choose a program with a language course or opt to hire a private tutor. Even having a few basic phrases under your belt will make a huge difference!
Locals can typically tell if you don’t live there and will speak to you in English. If someone does speak to you in Hebrew, politely let them know that you don’t speak the language and they will gladly speak to you in English. Don’t worry, it’s not disrespectful.
3. Shabbat is observed weekly
While all of Israel might not be as religiously observant as Jerusalem, a majority of the country recognizes Shabbat, the day of rest. Shabbat begins a few minutes before sundown on Friday and ends approximately 40 minutes after sundown on Saturday. On Shabbat, many businesses and services are closed throughout the country. This is a very big change for Americans in particular because Saturdays are typically the busiest days for many services.
4. Israel is very well developed
Don’t expect to go to Israel and sacrifice all of the amenities and luxuries from home. Israel is home to many startups, as technology is at the forefront of its economy. Some very popular companies, such as Wix, Conduit, Fiverr and the mobile app sensation Waze, are headquartered in Israel. There is also a strong medical sector in the country. All of these successful ventures have helped the country develop into an entrepreneurial melting pot. For students who have an innovative mindset, studying in Israel will be a very beneficial experience.
5. Everyone is welcome
Due to Israel’s large Jewish population, you might assume that people from other religions have a harder time in the country. However, Israelis are welcoming of all people. Christians and Muslims who live in Israel are free to practice their religion and traditions. Churches or mosques are available in nearly every city. Israel is the land of the Bible, the Torah, and the Qur'an; studying abroad there ensures an experience unlike any other in the world.
6. The culture is fascinating
Israel has a historic past. Many people travel to the country strictly to educate themselves on the culture and history. Jerusalem, alone, is a historical hotbed, drawing great interest from both religious people and historians. There are also other historically significant landmarks such as the Red Sea, The Dead Sea, Masada, Baha'i Gardens, and Caesarea National Park. While you’re studying in Israel, you should attempt to learn more about the background of the country and experience the rich culture of Israel. Be sure to spend your weekends exploring all the nearby sights - some of the most important lessons you'll learn while abroad will happen outside of the classroom!
7. Israel is the second most educated country in the world
As a student, your main concern with a study abroad program is the quality of the school you will be attending. The universities in Israel rank in the top 100 best universities in the world, while the country's population is the second most educated in the world. This means that you are guaranteed to receive an exceptional education. Whether you’re an undergraduate student or attempting to get into a graduate, having a university from Israel on your transcript can give you an advantage over other graduates.
The most popular universities for international students in Israel are the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, and The University of Haifa. Be sure to read reviews of their study abroad programs before choosing one for yourself!
8. Israel is affordable
You don’t have to be rich to study or live in Israel. This is great news for students! You can have a great time without breaking the bank. It doesn’t cost much to travel around with public transportation, or you can even rent a car if you wish and the rates are reasonable. When compared to the cost of traveling through the U.S or the U.K, Israel is more affordable.
The costs of food in supermarkets and restaurants will be comparable in price to what you would pay on average across Europe. However, every major city in Israel boasts a big market (or shuk) where you can buy popular local dishes for ridiculously low prices.
9. Traveling overland is easy
Since English is spoken throughout the country and there are a lot of U.S travelers in the area, street signs and printed guides are in English (which makes getting around much easier!). You don’t need a car to travel, especially in the city. Most students rely on public transportation or simply travel by foot. On Friday nights and Saturday, most public transportation services are closed (to observe Shabbat!) so be sure to make other arrangements.
The bus system in Israel is modern, clean, and safe. Students can enjoy the low costs and numerous destinations that you can get to by bus. If you're up for the truly local way of travel, you can take advantage of the shared taxi system, or sheruts. Pass the time by practicing your Hebrew with the other folks in the cab!
10. Israel is safe
Contrary to popular belief, Israel is safe, especially for students. Public security is very important in Israel, which is evident by the routine searches performed when entering public areas such as bus stations, malls, or other highly crowded buildings. All of these precautions help make Israel a very safe destination for students. Regardless, all students should be thoroughly prepared for emergencies while abroad. Be sure to read up on tips for studying abroad in politically unstable areas.
Israel may be only 1/6 of 1% of the geographic size of the Middle East, but it commands a strong international presence, not only for its culture but also for its educational resources and bright students.
Only in Israel you can combine outstanding education with the unique opportunity of living and experiencing one of the most diverse and history-rich countries in the world. No matter where you come from, Israel has something for you.