Sometimes our feet get itchy for reasons beyond wanderlust. For those born and raised outside of the country of your ancestors, the pull to explore your roots can be a strong one. So when Lauren Monitz of The Down Lo had the opportunity to live the expat life in Israel, her ancestral land, she did just that.
What made you move out of the USA? Where were you living at the time and what was the catalyst for moving abroad?
I was in college at the time in Colorado and about to come home to spend the summer in Chicago. My mom actually found the program and encouraged me to apply. She used to travel every week for work and wanted me to experience the world too. She really instilled the sense of wonder.
What sparked your interest in Israel?
I was offered a free trip – who could turn that down? The Birthright Program gifts Jewish young adults (ages 18-26) a 10-day all expenses paid trip to experience the homeland. I extended the journey with another program called Kefiada through the JUF (Jewish United Fund) to teach English at a youth summer camp for the rest of the summer.
What were your first impressions of the country? Was it what you expected it to be?
Upon landing, all the security at the airport was a bit alarming and it took a bit of time to get used to seeing armed soldiers everywhere, but eventually you do get used to it. Definitely running through my head was, “What did I get myself into?” though. Up until that point, I had really only been to islands and frou-frou English-speaking vacation destinations.
Did you experience any culture shock? If yes, can you give an example. If not, what prepared you for the local culture?
The soldiers were all my age so it was super weird to see the youth in such an important, adult role. In America we were really still in our “finding ourselves” phase. To give a bit of background, all citizens, male and female, are required to join the military after high school. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it initially, but I was surprised to learn they don’t view it as being forced at all, but as a privilege and a right of passage. Over there, it’s just a part of growing up.
What is your favourite thing about living in Israel? Least favourite?
I love being surprised by places and it’s so not what you see on the TV. It’s not a war zone and it’s not all desert. There are more climate zones than you could possibly imagine from dazzling coastal towns to lush greenery and incredible mountains. I also have dreams about that hummus.
What are your favourite hangouts? Activities? Food?
Most afternoons we would either chill by a pool (it got crazy hot there) or shop for goodies at the souks and mall (Mango had the best clothes). We were obsessed with a coffee chain called Aroma and a chocolate bar named Max Brenner (there are actually a few in the US now).
What do you miss most about the US? Least?
I was doing a homestay in a pretty rural town so we didn’t have regular internet access. It was weird to be so disconnected, but probably necessary. I missed my friends and family — I was having so many incredible experiences I wished they could share with me.
How present is the political conflict in Israel? Did it affect your daily life?
Aside from heightened security everywhere, it’s not really at the forefront of your mind. The Gaza Strip is 139 square miles of a country that’s over 8,000 miles so unless you’re specifically going to that region, you barely notice it.
How easy is it to travel within and outside of Israel?
Logistically it’s very easy, there are trains, planes, and automobiles. There is a rumor that with an Israeli stamp in your passport you can’t visit certain Muslim/Arab countries afterwards so be sure to read up on any current restrictions.
Describe a typical day for you in Israel. Did you bring any of your daily routine back to the US with you?
We had a really regimented schedule since it was a volunteer program. Our house mom would make us breakfast (eggs, toast and an Israeli salad), we’d walk to the school where our camp was held, and spend the morning playing educational games. Afternoons would be for lesson planning and getting to know our co-counselors. Working from home and freelancing full-time, my life is a lot less structured 🙂
How did you feel moving back to the US? Did you experience any reverse culture shock?
I just kept thinking I wish everyone could have an experience like I did. It helps you see the world in such a different light and realize we’re really not that different after all.
Any plans for moving abroad in the future?
I’d love to do a program like Remote Year where I’m bouncing between countries with a group of likeminded travelers.