Written by Allison Paisner, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow Alumna
1. Prepare to Pursue your Passions
Speaking of passions, MITF is your chance to pursue (or even find) them! Yes, you’ll be teaching during the week, and you’ll be busy at school. But the day only spans from 8 am-2 pm in most cases. This means every day you can do something to fill your time outside of the classroom. Do you! Make some extra shekels by tutoring your neighbors in English, train for the Tel Aviv marathon, study Ulpan, start a blog, venture out of your city, or find a volunteer opportunity. I worked in one of Petah Tikva’s community gardens and joined the municipality’s Department of Environmental Education team. If you’re coming from University or a rigorous work environment, this ITF year is the biggest blessing you can give yourself… the time to focus on the things that effortlessly make you happy and what drives your passion.
2. Be Aggressive
Moving to a new country is hard. It’s not only the verbal language that’s foreign; it’s the nonverbal—hand gestures and sounds are just as much a part of the Hebrew language as words. Miscommunications are inevitable, and the Israeli school system is guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Stereotypes are dangerous, and there’s always an exception to the rule, but for the most part, Israelis want things done their way. They tend to raise their voices, but it’s not because they’re yelling at you. They’re just excited and genuinely want to help you. When English isn’t the most efficient medium of communication (with teachers or students), you need to assume a different kind of leadership and find your voice in a creative way. Play the game Israeli style. Assert yourself and don’t be afraid to fight for what you want with persistence and by standing your ground, in the nicest way possible of course, and you’ll earn the respect you deserve.
3. בלגן: Balagan
When translated, the word “balagan” comes to mean: mess, disorder, confusion, problems, difficulties. Mesh all of those together and you get the true meaning. Cut and paste this concept into an Israeli school and we’ve got a picture of utter chaos compared to what you’re probably used to. There are no lines when walking from class to class, sometimes not even a cafeteria, no hands are raised (just fingers), schedules are often meaningless, and all the teachers are called “the teacher” or by their first name. Discipline is not in these children’s vocabulary yet. And magically enough, the system works. However, it is your job to stay sane and adapt your teaching style to this new environment you’re in—step outside your comfort zone and create an English game, teach through pop culture, etc. Oh, and you’re about to become your school’s newest celebrity. Expect to be followed by mobs of screaming children, dying to ask if you’re friends with Justin Bieber or if you live in New York City or how much your Pandora bracelet costs. These kids will probably give you headaches, but they’ll also give you hugs and worship the ground you walk on.
4. Hebrew is on You!
Okay, so you’re moving to Israel for a whole ten months and will be fully integrating into Israeli culture. You’re obviously going to come home fluent, right? Wrong. Your job is to be an English teacher, which means, no Hebrew in the classroom. You’ll have some Ulpan (Hebrew classes) to brush up your skills no matter what level you’re on, but it’s your job to maintain it. 99.9% of your Hebrew education is outside of Ulpan. Force yourself to communicate in Hebrew as much as possible—learn your vocabulary at the shuk, the mall, the bars, pretty much anywhere. Find a nice Israeli who wants to be your friend and practice your Hebrew on them and they’ll practice their English on you. There’s no osmosis that will magically make you fluent. Seek out opportunities and commit to the language if learning Hebrew is something you’re passionate about!
5. You’ll Fall in Love and Never Want to Leave
Not only is this country going to be your new home, but you’re also going to have new friends, new family, a new community, and a new outlook on life. Even if you’re not coming from an educational background as a teacher, you’ll fall in love with your job and the energy was emanating from your students. Staff will be fighting over you to spend a Shabbat with their families, you’ll even get used to the Nescafé in the teacher’s room (which Israelis think replaces a real cup of coffee…it doesn’t). You’ll fall in love with your MITF cohort because they’ll have just been through this whole journey with you and will be the only ones who truly understand how you’re feeling.
Granted there are bound to be ups and downs, good days when you’ve successfully managed a conversation in Hebrew, and you feel like you can conquer the world, bad days when your bus is 20 minutes late, sad days when you’re missing home and the luxuries of dryers, peaceful days when you’re sitting on the beach watching the sunset with your year-long tan, and exciting days when you wake up and one in every 10 days is a holiday…
The list goes on and on, but the most important thing you need to know before you become a Masa Israel Teaching Fellow is that the experience is what you choose to make of it, and the possibilities are all at your fingertips. You just need the chutzpah to grab them.