It’s an in-joke among NYU’s international students that their study away program is a misnomer. We’re already studying abroad, having already made the trek from our home countries to NYU New York. But not ones to look gift horses in the mouth, many of us are among the 1,500 students who began the Fall 2016 semester at one of NYU’s 14 study abroad sites. Study abroad 2.0, if you will.
I’m a Journalism and Middle Eastern & Islamic Studies student, and NYU Tel Aviv allows me to take journalism classes while studying both Arabic and Hebrew. My tentative plan is to move here after graduating next spring, so I have a chance to get a lay of the land and a sense of the culture and customs of a country where almost all public transport shuts down from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
Getting out of Tel Aviv is another experience. At the end of August, I traveled with two friends to Sderot, a town about a kilometer from the Gaza Strip. The town is infamous for being the frequent target of rocket attacks from Gaza. In a gated area outside the town’s police station, there are shelves and shelves of rocket shells destroyed by the Iron Dome, Israel’s air-to-air rocket defense system.
My two friends and I wandered around for a while, and it was as if we were in a Twilight Zone episode with a time warp where a small town is stuck in a perpetual wake after a very sad funeral. You can take as many classes as you want on Israel and Palestine, but walking around a small Israeli town where the train station is built out of the ground because it’s also a reinforced bomb shelter gives you a visceral idea of everyday life in Israel. The NYUTA dorm, as it happens, is the only study away dorm which comes equipped with its own bomb shelter.
In the time-honored tradition of NYU study away students, I think I’m spending as much time traveling as I am in class. There’s a class trip to Jerusalem planned next weekend, while my parents, cultural Irish Catholics of the first order, want to see Bethlehem when they come to visit in two weeks. I’m planning on spending most of my fall break in Marrakesh, Morocco, to practice my Arabic.
And so I begin my first foray into the Middle East, spending my weeks in class and my weekends traveling. Tel Aviv, where the NYU campus is based, is reassuringly European in some ways and reminds me of being in France and Spain as a teenager. The weather is nice, there’s a charming cafe culture and there are innumerable young guys almost running you over riding mopeds on the sidewalk. A friend once described Israel as “half California, half Iran,” and traveling around it is very much familiar, but different.
Email Tommy Collison at [email protected]