Coming home from abroad

Halfway through my semester abroad at the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I still marvel at the thought that something so new and so different can so quickly become routine.

Coming from Toronto, where I live at home and commute to U of T each day through the snow, I dreamed of the day I would be walking between rows of blooming flowers under the hot Mediterranean sun.

This is the first time I have been away for long enough that I’ve been able to unpack my suitcase. It’s an exhilarating feeling to have another place to call home and to come back to at night.

Studying abroad has given me the typical university experience in an atypical setting. I go to classes, take notes, and study for tests. But, in between, I get to explore an ancient city, play music in hospitals, hear from social activists, accustom myself to the Mediterranean palate, take part in the uniqueness that is Israeli society, and exist in a city rich with thousands of years of history.

Adaptability is my word of choice for this semester. I have learned to go with the flow — the ultimate Israeli mentality.

Reaching the halfway point of my semester has allowed me to see what I have accomplished and what more there is to do here in Israel. I am nowhere near done, yet I have to say that I am missing home. Calling home before Passover and smelling familiar dishes all around me makes me feel far away.

I am embracing the newness. At every turn I experience an ‘only in Israel’ moment. I am grateful to be here, to be learning about myself and my relationship to this country, and I am grateful to have a home waiting for me back in Toronto.

Another year at U of T after an experience like this will be challenging. Reverse culture shock is real. I am trying not to dwell on the thought of moving back home under my parents’ roof, taking the subway, putting real effort into schoolwork, and having to think ahead to post-grad life.

I am committed to making the most of the rest of my time here and experiencing life in Jerusalem to the fullest, until June rolls around.

— Adina Samuels

Counting blessings before graduation

In the final weeks of my fourth year, I’ve come to realize that there’s a possibility that I took a lot of things I had at U of T for granted. One of the simplest is that I always knew what came next.

Now, there lies in me a wave of uncertainty as to what the future holds, because it’ll be the first time in four years that I may not be heading back to school in September. For the first time in my life, I can’t plan an outcome — I have to go with the proverbial flow. It’s terrifying.

When I first came to U of T, I wanted to plan my entire life — degree, relationship status, future and all. First year hit me like a ton of bricks, and for a long time I resented this university for what I felt was undeserved pain and strife.

Except now, looking back, I’m counting my blessings and the people I’ve met along the way. I’m immensely grateful that I’ve never had to say to anyone, “I wish I had never met you,” and for the opportunities I’ve had to contribute to U of T as a whole.

This place is what made me step out of my comfort zone, what made me go from being a shy, timid girl to the loud person whom my friends know me as today.

It made me stand up for what I believe in, gave me platforms to voice my opinions and meet like-minded people. I’ve gotten to know people from all walks of life, and thanks to these opportunities I now feel comfortable entering any space — the girl I was before U of T was terrified to go to a Starbucks alone.

Knowing that my time here is coming to a rapid end, it is a lesson for the future me to see the positive in the places I go and cherish the time I spend there because time moves so quickly.

It is the end of this chapter for me, but not the end of my story. There is an endless amount of people whom I want to thank, but I don’t think there are enough pages to contain my thoughts.

I do want to convey to everyone who has touched my life that if I could, I would go back in time and do it all over again, just to spend more time with you.

— Sila Naz Elgin

Life goes on

“How do you feel about graduating soon?” is a question I seem to be getting from everywhere — family dinners, job interviews, and reunion drinks with friends. I’ve been getting it for the last year, even when I was still desperately trying to pretend that it wasn’t happening. I did that for a while, for as long as I could.

I do have a plan now, a pretty solid and exciting plan, which is more than I could’ve said for myself up until recently. Everything in my life feels like it’s preparing itself for a transition, which helps. Relationships, living situations, schedules, and passions are shifting and changing, making me feel like I’m constantly standing on the precipice of something alternately incredible or horrific.

It’s easy to feel that the other end of undergrad is a black abyss. I think that’s more or less the consensus in university culture. It’s common to tentatively ask any undergraduate student, “So, what’s the plan for after?” only to be met with varying responses of groans, exasperated sighs, or just laughter.

I am lucky enough to have had the complete freedom to decide what I want to do, but I think it is precisely this freedom that has upped the pressure to make precisely the right choice.

One thing I have learned is that life goes on, most of the time in a much less dramatic way than we anticipated, but still in a completely different way than we prepared for.

So, yeah, I am terrified. But I also know that I will finish my exams, grab my diploma, and the next day I’ll wake up, make a smoothie, and live my life. I know for a fact that it won’t be a black abyss of terror — it’s just the next step.

— Leah Kuperman