“So how was Israel?”

July 12, 2012

The most frequently asked question!


I’ve been afraid of the question for some time now. How does anyone expect me to evaluate my entire ten-month experience abroad in a light, simple answer? I can’t glaze it all over with something as predictable as “it was amazing” and I don’t want to bore someone with the full report.

But I can certainly try to bore you. …I kid.
If you’ve been reading until now, this might be your favorite part.


How did your experience change over the course of ten months?

At first, I was definitely a bit of a tourist—a foreigner visiting with little knowledge of how things go, and a camera constantly in my hands. I went on adventures with people I had just met and learned many things the hard way. I was frustrated when I began my studies because my Hebrew wasn’t good enough at first.

In the middle of the year, I think I felt the most homesick because many of my Fall semester only friends were already headed home only halfway through my own program. After settling down a bit for five months, our [international student community] world was shaken up again and we were left to regroup and try to feel even more at home. My Hebrew got better, but it still wasn’t good enough. My entire being was yearning for something familiar, and a deeper level of understanding.

Through my second semester, I felt much more comfortable and better-adjusted. The coming of new DanceJerusalem students reminded me of how much I had learned in the first half of the year, and it empowered me to maintain or even gain momentum . I took Hebrew and loved what it did for me. I felt the most comfortable and the most natural by the end of my stay.


How was the food?

The food was amazing. My budget for eating out wasn’t all that extravagant, but it didn’t have to be to eat good Israeli food. In my daily life, I essentially fell into vegetarianism. Fruits and vegetables are just so cheap. I ate a lot of nuts and dried fruit. I even learned how to cook a little.

Food was the center of our group of international students at first. We gathered and discussed our daily adventures over group potluck-style meals. We shared and demonstrated our favorite recipes. We even baked for each other.

I managed to live a year basically without a microwave, and almost completely without an oven.

And boy, let me tell you. I didn’t realize how well I was eating in Israel until I got back. All the portions I came home to were absolutely enormous, with little fresh fruit and vegetables to be found. And I must have eaten more red meat in my first week back than my entire stay in Israel. My body took some time adjusting to eating in a Filipino household again.

I hope to bring back some of my Israeli eating habits when I go back to school.


Well, what was the dance like?

Another loaded question.

To immerse yourself in a completely different dance culture opens your mind to the possibilities.

Israel has a multifaceted contemporary dance scene, with Western influences that can be traced back to European Ausdruckstanz, or expressionist dance, and Martha Graham. Of course, there’s a serious contact improvisation culture, acrobalance scene, and yoga, pilates, and meditation. Then you have ballet. And then everything else… the contemporary dance. There’s the history of the Batsheva Dance Company, the erection of the Suzanne Dellal Center, and the establishment of dance festivals. Companies, independent choreographers, dynamic dance duos. Performances, workshops, getaways, improv jams. There are amazing performing arts high schools. And then there’s the Gaga movement language…

This all synergizes with the ins and outs of Israeli culture. The militaristic spirit, the conflict, the politics. The familial nature. The spirituality. It’s a unique place for dance to grow, and I’m glad to have been able to be around it for a long enough time for much of the culture to be able to sink in.

In short, I learned a lot about dance in Israel, and sampled quite a bit of it. I saw performances. I auditioned. I took all kinds of classes. I learned a sick amount of repertory. My body was tired a lot because I was working so hard. My mind did just as much work, if not more.


What’s one thing you learned?

I learned patience.

Among the trials and tribulations of living in a foreign country, “breaking my teeth” (a Hebrew expression) on a new language, and learning new approaches to moving my body; I found in myself the willingness to take time to understand a situation as fully as I could manage, investigate the possibilities, and find creative ways to discover new things.

In other words, I’m a bit more curious, especially in finding out what my body can do. Hopefully, as I continue to learn, less and less I do will be concerned with the end result or final picture. I think there are some complex social theories being called upon here, regarding a newly-found contempt for our competitive, consumerist, “I want results now” American culture, but I digress.


Were you sad when you left?

Sure. When am I going to see any of my new Israeli friends and mentors again? And what about all the other international students? I got pretty choked up saying goodbye to the people that made me feel the most at home or had taught me the most.

But on the day I flew, I took a walk in Tel Aviv. It was near sunset, and sort of a warm and sticky afternoon. I stopped by the Shuk HaCarmel and bought some expensive dates. I also found some sufganiot, or jelly donuts. As I walked down the beach, sweating more than I would have preferred, I saw so many different things. People playing matkot, or beach paddleball. A man doing Tai Chi. Naked toddlers in the sea. Guys practicing capoeira. Shabbat beach drinking. Lovers holding hands. Barbecues in the park. Bicyclists and runners. People with their dogs. All the stray cats.

Some of these things were familiar, and some new. A perfect portrait of life in motion. The culture of the beach in Tel Aviv, with new things to be seen all the time. On that walk, I knew that the memory I was trying to make wasn’t of that exact moment and all those things (although I think I did a pretty good job recalling); I told myself to remember that every day brings new experiences and new things to see, regardless of where you are.

Also, I was looking forward to seeing my family again.


Do you want to go back?

Of course I do, but I’m not sure at what capacity. At the very least, I’ve got to visit. There are so many people I’d already like to see again, and there’s so much going on there. I want to see my friends’ work get into choreography festivals. I’d like to dance there again, maybe participating in intensives or workshops. There are PLENTY to choose from.

Maximum, I’d go there for a while to live and work. I wouldn’t mind dancing, teaching, or choreographing there. Don’t think that I haven’t already tried to come up with ways to get back. For a non-Jew, it’s a bit difficult. But there are ways…

And that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to run away to Israel after I’m finished with my studies at Mason Gross. I have another whole year to live and dance before that point. Who knows what will happen and what opportunities will present themselves in that amount of time?

For now, I’m glad to be back in New Jersey, completing my undergraduate degree at Mason Gross School of the Arts.


In a few sentences, how was Israel?

I really gained a new perspective on my life and my art, being almost immersed in both Israeli culture and Israeli contemporary dance culture. To see, hear, and feel something the way people do in a different place in the world really opens your mind to so many possibilities. I’m immensely satisfied with my study abroad experience with DanceJerusalem, and I look forward to going back to Israel, no matter when or at what capacity that may be.


  1. you are so lucky to have spent such a long amount of time there.I wish I did, I’ve been four times. And the main questions people asked me when I got back: how was the weather? and: did you feel safe? HEY, your’re going to Mason Gross? I went to Rutgers, Douglas College. (I won’t tell you my year of graduation, though). Best of luck at Mason Gross!

    • Wow, thanks for reminding me about those questions! They’ve definitely come my way too! I’ll have to post a second FAQ!

      It’s nice to make the RU connection, and also the connection now through Israel. Such a small world we live in…

  2. hi carlo,
    thanks for your thoughtful and reflective comments. i’m currently in tel aviv myself and about to shift to jerusalem next week, so i’m tasting just a bit of your experience myself. looking forward to checking in with you when i return. will be around last week of july and then last 2 weeks of august too.

    • Jeff,

      Soak it all up and ENJOY! I’ll see you when you get back!


  3. Your post seems very interesting. I think Israel is made for dance only.

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