So I am now a week-or-so into classes here at the University of Haifa. It has been a great experience so far. I have learned a lot, adjusted to life here in this city, seen some amazing sites, and have been surprised by quite a number of things. The first two weeks of classes are what they call the “shopping period.” You go around from class-to-class and then lock in at the end of the week what classes you want to end up taking. All of my classes have been very interesting so far. What has amazed me are the classes that I didn’t think I would be interested in taking within my study-field were the ones that have ended up seeming the most interesting to me once I started taking the class. So now I’m in a pickle figuring out what classes I will lock in by the end of the week. It might be an extreme reference, but I guess you can say that this is my “Sophie’s Choice” at the moment.
Haifa is an absolutely beautiful city. From the Baha’i Gardens to Hof Carmel to the unbelievable top-of-the-mountain view of the Mediterranean Sea from my dorm room (photos below), there is something majestic about this city. In the meantime, as I have been adjusting to Israeli life and getting to know my Israeli roommates (all six of us share a bathroom for crying out loud), I have been taking note of the little things about Israelis, Israeli way of life, and things that have just flat-out surprised me. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them as much as I have enjoyed living them since I’ve been here:
- Bus drivers
Bus drivers have a mind of their own in this city. You go wherever they feel like going. The bus route may have supposed to go one way, but the driver may go another. Want to go to the beach? Nope! You’re going to the mall. If you don’t like it, you can hop on another bus.
- 1/2 floors are actually a thing
I still don’t understand the way floor levels work on this campus. Maybe I do go to Hogwarts after-all…
- Sunday is really Monday
I know that sounds like such a weird concept for Americans to understand, but they start their normal work-week on Sunday. The weekend in Israel is considered to be Friday and Saturday in observance of Shabbat.
- The wind doesn’t “whisper” on top of the mountain, it “screams”
It’s actually kind of therapeutic and nice as you try and sleep, but it is loud. Coming from Florida, I am so not used to mountains and high elevations. In fact, I am trying to get used to my ears popping as I travel down the mountain in a car or on a bus.
- My new best friends are…
The Google Translate and Currency Converter apps! I don’t know what I would do without them in this country.
- Herzl Street is like Chinatown, except run by Russians
I got a great deal on a cooking pan!
- Speaking of great deals…
The value of the American dollar is great here! While Israelis think prices are too expensive for them, us international students are like “this is so cheap!” I’ll put it this way… the most expensive meal I had this week was at McDonalds… and I went out almost every night to nice sit-down restaurants in the city.
- Speaking of money…
Israel’s currency is called the “shekel.” The shekel is actually quite nice (and physically looks way cooler than American money). The 1, 2, 5, and 10 shekels are in coin form. Anything above that value is in banknote form. To put it into perspective, as of today, 1 shekel is equivalent to 28 cents (USD) and 1 dollar (USD) is roughly 3.55 shekels. The Bank of Israel also has a coin that is called the “agora.” Think of “agorot” as cents, but completely useless! The most commonly used of the agorot are the 10 agorot coins. Ten “10 agorot” coins equals ONE shekel (which is also a coin). To put this in perspective for you even more, a 10 agorot coin is equivalent to around $0.02 (USD). What sucks about these coins are that they are much larger than the shekel coins and are as gold and shiny as can be. Essentially, it’s a false sense of being rich. Everyone hates these coins. No one understands why they are used since you normally pay exact change for almost everything. There is no “$5.75″ or “$9.99″ prices. Everything is just “5 shekels” or “10 shekels.” But a lot of cashiers just want to get rid of these agorot, so they will go out of their way to count out 20 “10 agorot” coins just so they don’t have to get rid of one “two shekel” coin or two “one shekel” coins. I’ll never understand…
- Israelis love American culture, but it takes a little longer for it to arrive here
Ask any Israeli and they will tell you the effect that American culture has had on them, especially when it comes to learning the English language. It’s quite incredible. Many talk about the “awesome American action films” that they see here since Israel doesn’t produce action films like Hollywood does. But the funniest example of the American cultural influence right now in my opinion is that Mackelmore’s “Thrift Shop” just made its way over here and from the likes of things, many think this song is the greatest thing since sliced bread. They love it… just when Americans are starting to get sick and tired of the song.
- Dolly Parton
Speaking of American music, Israelis have a very weird fascination with Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Out of ANYTHING that I have come across since I have been here, this has what has amazed me the most. Ask any Israeli and they can sing you this song word-for-word! I don’t know why, but they love this song! I heard it on the city bus the other day, I heard it at a student event on campus… even a roommate of mine was singing it. They love “Jolene!” I was talking to one of the security guards on campus about this the other day and I asked if country music was big here in Israel since Israelis love “Jolene” so much. His response was: “No, there are only two country songs that Israelis go crazy for: ‘Jolene’ and ‘Cotton Eyed Joe.’” Amazing! One may think that Israelis would go crazy over someone like Barbra Streisand, but nope… it’s Dolly Parton! I did not see that one coming.
- “Beverly Hills”
Whenever an Israeli asks for my name – and I tell them that it’s “Brandon” – they always get so excited and say something along the lines of: “Ahhhh! Like ‘Beverly Hills!’ Brandon Walsh! I love Brandon Walsh!” At first I just thought it was a funny coincidence, but then it happened almost every single time an Israeli asked for my name. It even happened when I met some of my Israeli roommates for the first time! Even though “Beverly Hills 90210″ is from the early ’90s, it’s big here in Israel now. I wish I was making this up! One of my roommates told me that the resurgence of “Beverly Hills 90210″ in Israeli culture is mostly due in part to a very popular song here called “Brandon Walsh,” in which the guy sings and raps about how he wishes he was as cool as “Brandon Walsh.” Fun fact, part of the reason why my parents named me “Brandon” is actually because my mom loved the character of “Brandon Walsh” since “90210″ was the most popular new show at the time I was born. Every cashier on this campus knows my name when I go to order food now!
Israelis idolize LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Whenever I tell an Israeli that I am originally from the Miami area, their eyes widen up and they get all excited because they love the Heat so much. Basketball is a very important sport here in Israel. The Israeli basketball league is followed quite heavily, especially here in Haifa since the team here just won the National Championship.
- The Battle of the Best Falafel
The American media may portray Israel to have conflict with its neighbors, but the real conflict here in Israel is “what place has the best falafel.” Sometimes these arguments can get pretty heated! In fact, the school took all of us international students last week to this street toward the bottom of the mountain where there are two falafel places directly across from each other. One falafel place was named “Best Falafel in Haifa” while the other falafel place was named “Best Falafel in Israel.” Either way, my stomach was happy!
- USF needs to step up their game!
Here at the University of Haifa, they give out free beer in front of the student center in the afternoon! It’s awesome! Enough said!
Cats are everywhere here in Israel! They are actually stray wild animals here, almost like squirrels. It is unheard of to have a cat as a family pet because of this. I learned that cats were brought over here about a hundred years ago or so by the British to take care of the rat problem. While the rats are gone, the cats stayed and grew in population size. And the cats aren’t afraid of anything either. All they want is some lovin’. While you have to be very careful with them, these cats will just hop right into your lap and practically demand that you pamper them until they feel satisfied.
On campus the other day, there were two people in bear suits. So like a good American student, I asked one of the Israelis if the mascot of the University of Haifa was a bear. He said: “Oh no! God is our mascot!” We all had a good laugh with that one! Turns out, these guys were in bear suits in promotion for some Israeli cell phone company.
- Speaking of advertising…
Since I am an advertising major, I have been fascinated with Israeli ads since they are so different from the ones we see in America. However, there is something that Israeli ads do which American ads don’t: they always give credit where credit is due. What I mean by that is somewhere on the ad or commercial (like on the bottom or the side depending on which medium the ad is being viewed), you will see the logo for the advertising agency that created the advertising campaign, no matter how big or small the advertising agency is. It’s almost like an artist’s signature at the bottom of a painting. I think that it’s such a nice thing because it shows just how important the business culture of advertising is in this country. It’s a nice little gesture and I think American advertising agencies have a lot to learn. In Israel, I learned that it is quite common among Israelis, whether you work in the advertising industry or not, to know the names of advertising agencies in this country (along with regular brand names that are being advertised) because they always see what agency created the ad. I think that’s so awesome! I wish American advertising agencies did this.
- Bar Refaeli
Whether Israelis love her or hate her, there is no denying that she is the face of Israel. She is everywhere! When I flew into Israel, I saw five different advertisements for five different brands featuring Bar by the time I got into the city. There is no question about it, she is the biggest celebrity here in Israel. She has a new movie coming out here in Israel called “Kidon” and she is even going to be the new host of “The X Factor Israel,” which is premiering next week. There is a lot of promotion for this show. It’s a very good time to be Bar Refaeli, if I do say so myself. She is the “it girl” right now in Israel. I’m not complaining at all!
- Apparently “states” are “countries”
Here in Israel, it seems that a good number of Israelis (not all though) have been under the impression that the United States of America is comprised of 50 countries, not 50 states. Many people have been confused by this. In fact, I was at the bank this morning and the bank teller was filling out this application on her computer for my account. I noticed that she hit a roadblock, but I just sat there quietly for about 10 minutes as this was going on. I could tell she was getting flustered. She kept calling over her co-workers to come help her and they seemed just as baffled. They were speaking Hebrew so fast in such an angry fashion, but I kept picking up on “Florida” as they were practically smacking the computer screen like doing that would make any difference. Finally, I asked what the problem was in English. She said: “I’m trying to find ‘Florida’ on this list, but it’s not popping up anywhere.” So I asked if I could come around to the computer and see if I might be able to help since maybe she was confusing the spelling. In the Hebrew language, “F” and “P” are basically the same letter. Turns out, she was looking at the “List of Countries” and had no idea that “Florida” was not a country and that she had to select “USA” instead. This has not been the only situation I have run into regarding this topic, it just was the most humorous situation.
- Finally, the best thing I have noticed since being here!
If you ever had any doubt about “peace in the Middle East,” then come to the campus of the University of Haifa. It doesn’t matter if you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, white, black, gay, straight, you name it… Everyone here just wants to live their life in peace and get along. Maybe I have only been here for a little over a week, but I have seen absolutely no judgement here. Jews and Muslims, for example, hang out on the greens together in between classes. This is the way that it should be! One of the best things I saw while walking to class were two girls holding hands. One girl was clearly Jewish and the other girl was clearly Muslim. There they were holding hands, laughing, and socializing with their other friends on their way to class. At that very moment, I had a vision that peace was a real reality. Hopefully in our lifetimes, it will be a reality.
On that note, I hope you will enjoy some of the photos I have taken so far:
Tags: Israel – Fall 2013
Comments are now closed.