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Hello, Goodbye, and Peace – Shalom from Tel Aviv!

Hiking in the Negev

Hiking in the Negev

Although I’m not trying to make you jealous, while most of you are sitting in cold DC, I’m writing to you from beautiful and sunny Tel Aviv, Israel! For those of you who don’t know me my name is Dani Wolberger and I’m a junior studying Business Economics & Public Policy and decided to spend my semester abroad in the Middle East. So far my experience has been nothing but rewarding, eye opening and thoroughly enjoyable and I hope anyone interested in spending their semester here will gain valuable insight into the types of experiences you too can have! Tel Aviv is a mix of old and new, a city that revolves around beaches and cafes while also boasts some of the best art and museums in the world. It’s truly a unique oasis in the desert that is the Middle East and I am soaking up all that it has to offer.

We students are fortunate enough to have a great resource on Tel Aviv University’s campus, The Overseas Program (OSP). This team of young and hip “social counselors” provide many opportunities for us to see every aspect of Israel. More recently we had the opportunity to spend the weekend in the south of Israel, called the Negev (Desert), where we hiked and learned about the land and its animal inhabitants. At night we had the rare experience of meeting a tribe of Bedouin. Bedouins are a subgroup within the Arab minority in Israel, with cultural, historical, social and political uniqueness. Before Israel was established as a country in 1948, several tens of thousands of Bedouins lived in the Negev as semi-nomads and once the state of Israel was established the Bedouins were put under severe limitations of movement, their living grounds were reduced and they lived in groups of tents, shacks and stone houses. We learned of the tough times Bedouins have had as they are a group that sustain themselves on agriculture and without open grazing land and an increase in agricultural technologies, they have had reduced incomes. This was an eye-opening experience for someone like me because I have always believed that Israel can do no wrong, but, like every other country, it have its flaws. However, Israel is working to better incorporate Bedouins into Israeli culture and society and raise their standards of living.

Dani Floating in Dead Sea

Dani Floating in Dead Sea

After our 3 days of hiking we ended at the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. The salt concentration is so high that you float the minute you walk into the water and there is not a fish to be seen. I think it must be the only body of water where no splashing occurs because if the water gets in your eye it’s considered a medical emergency! Everyone really enjoyed our time in a different part of the country and made new friends on this excursion.

Istanbul Street Food

Istanbul Street Food

Being in the Middle East awards us a unique opportunity to travel to destinations most of our counterparts in Europe will not see. This past week I travelled to Istanbul, Turkey for an unforgettable trip. Istanbul lies in between Europe and Asia and exemplifies the saying, “East Meets West.” We wandered through the Grand Bazaar as shopkeepers tried to sell us Turkish Delight (a very sweet dessert based on a gel of starch and sugar) and Jasmine tea. In Israel we have our own version of the Grand Bazaar but it is much different. In Tel Aviv, most of the shopkeepers are screaming, “2 kilos of strawberries for 10 shekels!” at the top of their lungs and getting very close to you while these shopkeepers in Istanbul were quiet and not as invasive into the personal space of the passersby. One of my friends here has a schoolmate studying abroad in Istanbul who gave us a non-tourist view of the city. One night for dinner we decided to take our local friend’s advice and head to a strip of food carts right on the shores of the Bosphorous River. Although we were skeptical to the idea of finding good food on the side of the river, we decided to give it a whirl and boy were we surprised. Turkish street food is essentially a very hot baked potato loaded with cheese and butter and topped with various vegetables (and of course, more cheese). When I say it was one of the tastiest dinners I’ve had abroad I am not exaggerating. We sat by the riverbanks, eating our potatoes and drinking Turkish tea while a street performer played the violin. I sound like I’m making this up but I promise it is real! Turkey’s modern Islamic culture was a wave of fresh air and in stark contrast of everything I have learned about Muslim traditions. This trip was eye-opening in more ways than one and definitely taught me not to judge a book by its cover.

All in all I am (still) thoroughly enjoying my time abroad and could not ask for a better experience. The people I am meeting are making me grow and think and learn all the time. I can’t wait to take all the knowledge I’ve gained here and apply it to my familiar settings back home in DC.

Shalom for now,

Dani Wolberger

Danielle is a GWSB Junior studying Business, Economics, and Public Policy.  To read more about GW’s study abroad program at Tel Aviv University, click here.  To read her first blog post, click here

 

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