Life as an ITF-er in Netanya was never short of dull. The city itself was wonderful; everything was in walking distance (shuk, transportation, supermarkets, mall, etc.) and the beach was a ten-minute walk away. There were two gyms on opposite sides of town and it was only a 40-minute sherut ride to Tel Aviv. Herzilya, Poleg and Ra'anana were also very close by. The train station was also within walking distance. I never felt unsafe in Netanya due to the soldiers who I saw everywhere and the main populations in Netanya--Russians, French and Ethiopians--were kind and accepting. They also spoke English! I really feel like the city adopted us, particularly the cashiers at the supermarket underneath the apartment who referred to us as "the teachers" and the two Russian convenience stores who always gave us discounts.
During a regular week, I would be at my school. My school was a ten-minute walk away and was very secular. My teacher, Merav, along with the other teachers and staff, treated me and my teaching partner with respect and always went out of their way to make us feel welcome. I was blessed to have the best students any teacher could want. They were so eager to learn and taught me how to read Hebrew. That helped me immensely in Ulpan! My students always showered me with gifts, asked me about my life in America and would get so excited when they saw me outside of school. I couldn't even walk down the street for more than a few seconds without bumping into one of my students! My students respected me thanks to Merav, who was an incredible mentor. She let me plan my own lessons for the kids, constantly had me over her house for Shabbat and would randomly cook for me. I could not have asked for a better mentor and friend.
Otherwise, life was busy with volunteering, seminars, trainings, working out at the gym and Ulpan. I made such a good impression on my Ulpan teacher that myself and another ITF-er were the only people invited to her and her husband's house for an amazing Shabbat dinner.
For highlights, I am forever indebted to Masa. They offered so many cool seminars that I was able to take advantage of and being at the 2013 Winter Leadership Summit was not only one of the best memories from my ten months in Israel, but one of the happiest moments of my life. My college did not offer regular Joe's like me leadership opportunities (they went to rich students), so getting accepted to the Summit was not only a confidence-builder, but the best way to mentally scold my college for denying me chances to be a leader. I met so many great people, attended wonderful sessions and learned a lot. Being at the Summit allowed me to get accepted to two different Fellowships (I chose the wonderful Kol Voice), let me share my experience with sixty other participants as practice for selling my story to Taglit groups and really just allowed me to smile when it wasn't always easy. The Mifgashim series was amazing as well and the one that involved Shabbat hospitality was another one of my best memories from my entire ten months in Israel. Masa gave me chances that no one else did and I am forever grateful.
Of course, the experience had some drawbacks. My apartment was great location-wise, but otherwise, had this apartment existed in America, it would have been torn down due to all the health and fire code violations. Also, the sick days policy wasn't fair. It should not have taken me five visits with four different doctors to get antibiotics and an inhaler for bronchitis (that developed due to all the smoking both in my building and around the city since smoking is not a social taboo in Israel) when I begged every time my lungs flared up to go to the hospital. I was put on medicine that only masked the symptoms but affected my job performance. Despite attending every single seminar and being within my sick-days limit, I was not allowed to miss a pedagogical training even through the medicine made me loopy and was not given an exception to stay home from school for one extra day, even though I was violently ill.
Otherwise, despite a few setbacks, I greatly enjoyed my experience as an ITF-er in Netanya. I made sure to stay busy outside of the program with the gym and writing for an Israeli paper and those kept me sane. I enjoyed the people in my cohort immensely and like with Masa, am forever indebted to them for their wisdom and kindness.