A Letter to Myself, In the Spirit of Packing Lists

June 15, 2012

Dear August 2011 Carlo,

With approximately two weeks left in Israel, I am preparing to leave in the way I know best:  making lists. As I decide what to pack and what to do away with, I find myself revisiting a familiar place in my mind and it’s where you are now, packing and freaking out about leaving for Israel. Now almost ten months wiser about living in this place, I’ve decided to compile a few packing lists for you, my August 2011 self:

  • things you’ll be glad you brought
  • things you had no idea you needed
  • things you need to buy right away
  • things you totally don’t need


Four things you’ll be glad you brought…

#4 – Your Laptop Computer
It’s essential for staying connected to online news and social media. You will communicate with friends and family through email and Skype. Schoolwork, tourist and dance research, blogging… The laptop is obviously a must.

#3 – Your Journal
You will write down thoughts, organize your choreography, and keep shopping lists. It’s nice to have it all in once place, and I’ll enjoy looking back on it later on in my life. Draw lots of pictures, have friends write in it, and write down all the recipes you can.

#2 -Your Running Shoes
You won’t have the time, money, or energy to warrant getting a gym membership here, but continuing my running hobby here will be amazing fun. The altitude and generous amount of hills in Jerusalem will be tough to get used to, but keep at it and little by little, you’ll get regular running back. Running is an amazing way to get to know an unfamiliar city. Running in Tel Aviv is an absolute dream, with sun, sea breezes, and an active community of fellow runners doing what they love all hours of the day. Do the Tel Aviv marathon and don’t be afraid to train in the rain.

#1 – Your iPod Touch
This is perhaps the one most important item you will own on this next year abroad. It will function as a pocket-sized computer, able to access the Internet anywhere with free Wi-Fi, which is really most anywhere. The City Hall station, the Central Bus Station, any university or Academy campus, the Kfar HaStudentim, cafes everywhere… You will use it to take photos, send emails and texts, pull up maps, listen to music, keep track of your running, do currency calculations, time eggs and laundry, and as a translator… The list goes on! One unique app you will use frequently is “JeruBus,” a map of Jerusalem with a color-coded overlay of bus lines.



Four things have no idea you’re going to need…

#4 – Hiking Backpack
Israel is an amazing country for hiking and traveling, and your most valuable asset during this kind of traveling is a medium-sized hiking backpack that is comfortable to carry. Expect to be able to fit enough belongings for a weekend trip to Tel Aviv or any other city, a weeklong hike down part of the Israel National Trail, or a winter vacation backpacking outside of the country. If you neglect to bring one, and though you’ll manage with just a normal school-sized backpack, you will have preferred to have the option of more packing room. Besides, making the flight overseas, you want to be able to maximize your carry-on load too.

#3 – Warm Clothes
Don’t believe anyone when they tell you that Israel is (only) warm. They’ve never been in JERUSALEM in the WINTER. It’s true:  snow is rare in Israel. But the Hebrew University – Mount Scopus campus is on a desert mountain! The winter is rainy. The rain is cold, and the wind is absolutely biting. If you live in the Kfar HaStudentim, you potentially live up to nine floors on TOP of the mountain, and the winds howl at that altitude. Since you’re going to be around for the whole year, and will be experiencing the full winter season, you’re going to need a warm winter coat, gloves, a hat, and a scarf. The whole nine yards. Actually, make that warm, waterproof clothes. A good double-whammy item to pack is a pair of good, comfortable, waterproof hiking shoes. Don’t get me wrong, though:  spring and autumn are quite warm, and the summer is scorching. But you probably already figured that much.

#2 – Extra Ballet Shoes
Specific to studying dance here at The Academy, you’ll need a complete dance wardrobe:  all the right undergarments, and several black options for in-studio showings or performance. Some ballet instructors and classical modern instructors at The Academy prefer leotards and tights in typical conservative fashion. Classes like Gaga, improvisation, contact, and choreography don’t dwell on dress code at all so don’t be afraid to bring your comfy stuff too. Be advised that dancewear shopping in Israel is actually pretty amazing. Leggings and short tights are CHEAP, and the shuk pants are the perfect throw around bottoms. You’re going to find the best T-shirts for dance at the store called Gina on Yafo in Jerusalem for 5NIS.  That’s less than two dollars. Buy as many of them as you can before they sell out.

#1 – Attire Appropriate for Every Occasion
You don’t know this because you’re not Jewish. Places like the Western Wall or the Dome of the Rock are generally pretty casual, especially because tourists flow in and out of these tourist sites all the time. Shabbat dinners, holidays, and visits to synagogues are closer to business casual. You’ll wear pants, a shirt, and a kippa. The girls will wear a conservative outfit with a skirt. The most formal or conservative outfits of all are used for visits to religious neighborhoods, like Mea Shearim or Beit Shemesh. You’ll wear black pants, socks, and shoes, with a plain white button down shirt and a kippa. When it’s cold, it includes a conservative sweater or jacket. The ladies will wear a it’s a mid-calf length skirt, simple closed-toed shoes, and a top that covers the chest and arms.


This dance outfit was only $8 on Yafo.


Some things you need to buy right away…

Snacks, Snacks, Snacks
You will land in Israel and all you will have are the clothes on your back and whatever is in your suitcases. It’ll be hours until you get to your dorm, and at least another day until you are equipped to cook a meal for yourself. The first thing you should do, and you got this advice from Julia Ritter, is to find a convenience store and pick up snacks. You’re going to be exhausted from travel, from moving in, from exploring, from trying to understand signs and people in Hebrew, and there will be a time when you’re hungry, alone, and won’t know where to go. You need food to keep you going through this transition! As far as Israeli snacks go, I recommend ANY chocolate, Bamba, and of course… pita and hummus.

A Map of Jerusalem
It’s going to be your home for the next year, and you’re going to want to get to know the city. A good map is waterproof, has detailed street names, and is easy to read. They’re cheap at the student bookstore.

A Hot Water Heater
A quick way to make boiling water. You will make instant foods like oatmeal or packaged soups, or make tea and coffee. It’s faster and more eco-friendly than boiling water on the stove.

A GOOD Kitchen Knife
Self-explanatory. Spring for that lime green 100NIS knife. Everyone will love having it in the house.

A French Press
Homemade coffee in the morning cuts down on caffeine costs. Going out to seek fresh coffee is also beautiful way to meet your local spice shop vendors. Moshe’s long, narrow spice shop has the best quality-to-price ratio. Splurge once in a while and spring for the irish vanilla flavor. It’s delicious and aromatic.

Israeli Power Adapters
You’re going to need them for your foreign appliances. You can find them most anywhere. The small, two-pronged adapters should cost around 6NIS, and bigger ones maybe twice as much. Remember that your larger, three-pronged appliances that use heavy wattage, like electric shavers and hair driers, may need an energy converter. When Jeff pulls out his electric shaver to shave his head for the first time, offer him your converter to prevent the blackout.

Cell Phone
Rothberg International School refers international students to the Talk n Save company for cell phone plans. You don’t need anything more than that basically free plan. You’re given a certain amount of minutes per month that I never use up. You will  rarely text, and your phone bill will be under $10 a month. To text the United States, you’ll use the iPod/iPhone app called TextFree. It grants you a US number in any area code you like, and you can text unlimited, with only the small annoyance of an ad here and there within the app. For calling the United States, Skype or Facebook chat will be the most popular options.

Phone Communication:  Magic Jack
Most importantly, listen to your mom and get the Magic Jack. It’s a simple USB plug-and-play device that works through an Internet connection. This is the cheapest option for international phone calls. Your roommates here will have a Magic Jack subscription, and will love it. And your jealousy will be drowned out by your mother’s voice in your head saying “I told you so.”

There is the option to purchase a USB Wireless Internet card for your laptop through Talk n Save, but everyone you’ll meet that has it will claim that the quality and reception are terrible. Bezeq is the “preferred” Internet provider for students living in the Kfar HaStudentim. The apartments here house five students each, and just one account and router are sufficient for regular Internet use. TWO of your roommates are going to engage in Internet usage that strains the network bandwidth capacity—they will be streaming video, online gaming, and heavily downloading or uploading files—tell them immediately to get their own Internet connection.


You’ll cook great foods, if your kitchen is well equipped.


Four things you totally won’t need…

#4 – Maps of Other Cities
If you’re only visiting a city once or twice, you don’t need store bought maps for each one. Chances are that any hostel will be able to provide you with a free one, or be able to point you in the right directions. Ideally, any good guidebook you bring will have maps inside it. You can also look them up online or on your iPod Touch.

#3 – Television
You’re in a foreign country and should be traveling. But if you really want to watch movies or television, you can find lots of your favorite programming online. Hulu videos are not viewable in Israel (as of now), but YouTube plays just fine. Also, many people simply continue to use their online Netflix subscriptions to watch movies. There are also many other ways to watch movies for free online. Above all mentioned here, definitely find the local cinematheque and catch a foreign(-to-you) film. While here, visit a film festival in Haifa, and see Pina (2011) in Hebrew at the Lev Smadar theater Jerusalem.

#2 – Microwavable or Instant Foods
Go ahead and get used to shopping for fresh fruits, vegetables, and bread at Mahane Yehuda, the open air market. Your eating habits will truly change, and you are going to learn how to cook things! Shopping down at the market will give you a fuller experience, talking to shop owners, learning numbers in Hebrew, and rubbing elbows (and more) in the crowded aisles.

#1 – Room Decorations
Especially since you’ll be here a year, and you’re the type of person that likes to have a comfortable living space, you don’t need to bring too many room decorations. Make it your personal goal during the first semester to decorate your room with dance posters and postcards, as well as photos you found in magazines. These are great because they’re both easily disposable and easily packable. Potential souveniers?


Wall decorations, free? Don’t be too happy about it.



I hope these lists have been helpful in taking the edge off the packing process.

I’ll offer you more advice as it comes to me. Good luck…



June 2012 Carlo

One comment

  1. Good article, thank you.Always enjoy reading about dance and everything related to it.

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