The wonderful Near East

Mario N.

University:  Tel-Aviv University
Study Period: 
Spring 2013
Academic Level:  Master
   

If one goal of your semester abroad is to explore several different cultures at once while at the same time studying in a known and comfortable environment, I can strongly recommend Tel-Aviv University as the base of your endeavours. Though the young city of Tel-Aviv and its university represent a fairly western style, it is located at the center of the only state in the world with the majority of its inhabitants being jews and is further surrounded by various Arabic countries that offer interesting insights into their culture.

This report addresses everyone who is about to or has already made his decision to choose Israel as his destination and will give testimonial to the experiences I made. Further, I will give you a few hints in regard to the organization of your semester abroad. The report is structured as follows. First I will describe the preparations that were necessary, complemented by a short guide on Israel, Tel-Aviv and the Tel-Aviv University. The second part of this report will then consist of my personal experiences during my stay in the summer term of 2013.

Preperation

Applying at the University was quite easy. They only require a nomination by a Professor from your home university and some general information about yourself (like birthdate, address, full name, etc.) via the Internet. After providing said information, I was accepted at the Recanati Business School. Once accepted, the will send you a “Letter of Accpetance”, which you need for your visa. In order to obtain it, you have to send the Letter of Acceptance, your passport, a standard form inquiring general information about yourself, a portrait-picture of yourself, a confirmation by your doctor stating that you are healthy, prove of finance, the receipt stating you paid the application-fee of 35€, and a paid send-back-envelope to your local Israeli embassy.

Apart from your visa, you should also get a special international health insurance for students covering all expenses, especially war caused injuries and transportation back to your home country in case of severe injuries. Though Israel can be depicted as a stable country, the past renders such insurance necessary, as the Arab-Israeli conflict might cause unforeseen riots, acts of war or other aggressions, which should be covered by your insurance.

Due to the relative dynamic of the Tel-Aviv housing market, you should already start your search for accommodation prior to your departure: furnished apartments are rented on a mid- to short-term basis. You should therefore start to arrange dates to inspect the rooms one to 2 weeks prior to your departure. Website like http://telaviv.craigslist.org/ or http://www.yad2.co.il/ can help you with your search. The latter one is only available in Hebrew, though. In respect to the location of the apartment you should keep in mind, that the university is located in the north of Tel-Aviv and you can calculate about 45 minutes of transit from the city center (area of King George, Sheinkin, Sdereot Rothschild) going by bus or bike. Due to increasing rents from the south to the north of Tel-Aviv, I would recommend to search for a place to stay in the districts of Rabin Square / Bloch Street, which would be a good trade-off between rent and proximity to the campus.

I would also like to raise caution regarding rent-contracts in Tel-Aviv. Unfortunately there is no governmental regulation concerning rent-agreements and some people do exploit this. During my stay the Eden-Group refused to pay back the rent deposit to several students on made-up reasons. Therefore be cautious and check the rent-agreements for suspicious paragraphs.

Journey

For your journey to Israel, you can choose from an array of airlines all flying to the only international airport “Ben Gurion”. Arriving at the Ben Gurion airport you will have to answer several questions regarding the purpose of your stay, your social engagement and other issues. Your first destination should be one of the many youth hostels, which are all easily reachable via bus, train, sherut or taxi. There you can find other students looking for apartments as well as backpackers, who will often provide you with some information on the country, the people and the culture, as well as maybe some insider-information on good places in Tel-Aviv.

Israel

Due to the sheer mass of aspects regarding Israel and its' culture, I will only be able to give a short overview regarding language, safety, trips, holidays (especially Sabbat) and two very specific cultural aspects I experienced while socializing with many Israelis.

Even though Arabic and new Hebrew are the official languages, you won't need proficient knowledge in either one to survive. In any live situation one might encounter as a student, I could always find someone who was able to speak English with me. The only situations you might need to resign to signing with your hands and feet, is in jewish orthodox settlements (for example Me'a Sche'arim in Jerusalem) or palestinian autonomous settlements (for example Jericho). This is not a problem, though, since everyone is very friendly towards tourists. Most street sign on highways and rural roads as well as in the cities have an additional inscription in latin letters. This poses just one problem as there is no one right way to translate terms, but instead they are translated phoneme by phoneme, leading to lots of variation in the resulting translated terms (for example there is one street in the centre of Tel-Aviv which can be translated to "Mazeh", "Mazza", "Maze", or "Masa").

Due to the Mideast conflict, there is special stress on the aspect of safety in and around Israel resulting in army patrols and bag scans at every major bus stop and shopping mall. This might sound intimidating, but it does provide a feeling of safety in the major cities, like Haifa, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv and conveys the feeling of the Mideast conflict being far off and out of reach. The conflict does get far more salient in areas close to the border, though, by features such as seperated cities (for example Hebron), or massive border fortifications (for example in Bethlehem). Further you should always bear the tenuous situation in mind when visiting areas such as the Golan hights, a territory only annexed by Israel and therefore still not completely safe to visit without special guidance.

For journeys and trips you can rely on long-distance coaches, Sheruts (Cabs that are shared with other travelers and therefore cheaper than regular cabs, but a little more expensive than busses), and regular cabs. While the bus and train services are suspended on Sabbat and holidays, you will often be able to still catch a cab, but you will have to pay an extra holiday fee. Fortunately the bus and train services are much more reliable and cheaper than in Germany and can score extra points by providing thorough wireless connectivity. Besides those means of transportation, there is always the possibility to rent a car, however most rent contracts forbid you from entering autonomous palestinian areas. If you are considering traveling to other countries surrounding Israel, you should think about acquiring a second traveling passport, since some countries might not let you enter, if they find an Israeli visa stamp in your passport. This won't be an issue, though, if you plan to visit Jordan (especially Wadi Rum, Petra, and the Wadi Mujib).

Whenever it comes to planning trips during your semester abroad in Israel, you should keep in mind Israeli holiday customs. Contrary to our holiday customs with holidays beginning at 0:00 and ending at 24:00, Israeli holidays are dependent on the rise and settling of the sun. Therefore the Sabbat starts at 4 p.m. suspending most of the daily services, such as the bus service and stores being closed. Only emergency services, cabs and a few gas stations will continue to work, in addition to some very few grocery stores in major cities like Tel-Aviv. You are further permitted from using electronic devices in jewish orthodox dominated areas. All services are reinitiated on Sunday morning.

During daily social activites it becomes apparent, that Israelis are a dominant people and might be considered rude by european standards: In grocery stores people will continually cut the line, dialogs are often interrupted by third parties, traffic rules and regulations are discarded on a daily basis and the term "please" is use only very scarcely. This way of interaction is based on the virtual eleventh Israeli commandment "Don't be a freier'..." as put by author Benny Ziffer of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz. At the heart of this commandment is the concept of the "Sucker" (or "Freier" in Yiddish), which describes a person that is constantly exploited by others. In order to avoid being this "Sucker", Israeli people try to dominate every life situation and european travelers are recommended to drop their regular customs of diplomacy as fast as possible. Only with clear opinions, solid cases and constant punch you will be able to get what you want. This only holds true for strangers of course and you should not interact in this way with people close to you and people who have moved to Israel in the past and are still accustom to european ways.

Another interesting cultural aspect about Israel is the the amount of successful entrepreneurs this country has spawned. Dan Senor and Saul Singer paid close attention to this aspect in their 2009 book "Start-up nation". The elicit this aspect thoroughly and reason the military duty to be the cause, as this raises risk aversion and helps build highly functional and massively linked business networks. Israeli people therefore spend a lot of their time cultivating their relationships and assert a high value to their business network.

Tel Aviv

While Haifa is called the "City of work" and Jerusalem the "City of worship", Tel Aviv is known as the "City of sin". With its location on the Mediterranean coastline, its' vast beaches as well as its' highly diversified range of clubs and bars, Tel-Aviv does not fit the jewish orthodox way of life and is therefore rather populated by young secular men and women. This is most apparent by the existence of the LGBT-Community (for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), which not only becomes apparent during the Pride-Parade in June, but also forms the picture of Tel-Aviv on an everyday bases with same-sex couples having children. Besides the diverse people from Tel-Aviv it is also well known for its old buildings and its high traffic. Latter is due to the missing trams or subways as all of the public transport is filled in busses. As one consequence there are nearly no parking lots what makes car renting a very difficult thing. Most of the little existing parking lots are exclusively for inhabitants so one is only allowed to park his car on the side of the road. To be mobile in town without a car it is helpful to use the rent-a-bicycle-system or to buy a used one. Still there should be noted that, even though there are bicycle-roads all over the place, it is pretty risky. One of the big problems of Tel-Aviv is the gentrification of the city: In the southern districts (Levinsky, Florentin) there are nearly no investments made so the buildings go to rack while in the northern parts (HaYarqon, Ramat Aviv) experiences a boom in Building. Many Yuppies (Young Urban Professionals) move there and the prices increase.

Seen the perspective of recreation, Tel Aviv has a lot of opportunities. Habimah as the national theatre or any of the cinemas showing movies in original versions (mostly in English) are a great opportunity to spend your time. Additionally there are lots of restaurants and bars which never close or boulevards inviting you to stay or play a game of Boule. If this does not fit you there is also the possibility to go to one of the wonderful beaches where one can swim, surf or play Matkot (an Israeli game). But this fun ends as soon as the jellyfishes arrive.

Tel Aviv University: Recanati Business School

With around 33,000 students, Tel Aviv University (TAU) is the biggest one in Israel, showcased as well with its nine faculties and 128 research institutes. Besides all the international cooperation TAU is also especially known for its “TAU International Program” where students from all over the world can graduate in the iMBA (international Master of Business Administration). Additionally there is the “Part-Time MBA” where students from Israel can achieve an MBA while working full-time (with classes taking place from 7pm to 10pm). While being abroad at TAU you can participate in both Masterprogrammes so the offered courses are very diverse (seen at www.recanati-bs.tau.ac.il) While planning your semester, you should care for the two parts of the semester where lectures are to be fully passed. Each lecture gives around 1CP which can be calculated to around 4,3 ECTS.

If you compare the MBA of TAU to the subject of Business information Systems at University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) one notices huge differences in the methodical didactic next to the obvious topic. While in Germany there are many lectures trying to teach knowledge, at TAU it is different. One does often times work with case studies or in groups to fulfill a task. This has the disadvantages that the complexity of a topic cannot be taught in a monocentric way like a case study. In the group work there is the problem that many students only need to pass the course so their motivation to get a high grade is pretty low. This leads to very different working ethics which make the group working difficult.

Summarizing I want to say that the reception of exchange students was excellent. There were events to get to know each other as well as a walk-around to get to know all the important contacts a university like the library. Passwords for the Wi-Fi or Student cards were already sent before arrival so students like me were able to directly focus onto the lectures. What I really liked as well were the huge number of events with companies and other Israeli institutions giving you the possibility to build up a network.

Conclusion

As I tried to show in my report, the time in Israel was a wonderful experience where I learnt a lot about a fascinating culture. Especially the trips inside Israel and to Jordan impressed me so I definitely recommend you to take your time for these trips if you are interested in the Near East. Regarding the city of Tel Aviv and their university I was content but for other studying subjects one should check other cities and universities in Israel first. Especially if you are more technically interested the Technion in Haifa seems to be a great possibility. Though you should not forget the great nightlife but also the great distraction in Tel Aviv!

The costs of this exchange semester are pretty difficult to tell. They rely heavily on your preferences and your lifestyle and do not forget the exchange rate of EUR to NIS. Generally one can state that food and housing are more expensive than in Germany but public transport is way cheaper. This is really nice for any trip you plan! My five months in Tel Aviv were about 7,000€. The chart below may show some positions of cost. Hopefully it can help you plan your semester in Israel.

 

Declaration Kosten Währung
Flight (both ways) 370,00 EUR
Health insurance for six months 210,00 EUR
Train Ben Gurion Airport <--> Tel Aviv (HaShalom) 15,00 NIS
Cab Ben Gurion Airport <--> Tel Aviv City 150,00 NIS
Room per month (bad equipment, bad district: Tel Aviv, Shredeot Sderot Yehudit 34) 2000,00 NIS
Zimmer pro Monat (bad equipment, central district: Tel Aviv, Mazeh 49) 2500,00 NIS
Busride in the city (one way) 6,60 NIS
Busride Haifa 24,00 NIS
Busride Jerusalem 18,00 NIS
One night in hostel Dormitory 90,00 NIS

Trip to Jordan with five people (bus ride to Eilat and back:156NIS, border checkpoint: 25EUR, car for four days per ADAC:111,20 EUR + fuel (per full tank: 48JD, one night in Wadi Musa: 15 JD per night and person, Entrance Petra for two days: 55JD, one night in Wadi Rum: 13 JD per night and person, one day desert trip incl. camel riding and Jeep: 50JD per person with 5-8 persons)

 220,00  EUR
1 bottle of wine 80,00 NIS
1 bottle of beer 40,00 NIS
small yoghurt 6,00 NIS
1l milk 8,00 NIS
1 pckg cheese 32,00 NIS
1 pckg Salami 40,00 NIS
1 pckg. Toast (size Sanswichtoast) 22,00 NIS
6er pckg water each 1,5l 20,00 NIS
1/2 day in ambulance 1100,00 NIS
Bicycle 300,00 NIS

Chart: possible cost for orientation purposes

Finally I want to show you my blog www.mariotelaviv.wordpress.com. Next to many pictures and small texts it gives you a great feeling about living and studying in Tel Aviv.