Travel Blog

Hello Barca, שלום ישראל

This past Monday, I put my sweatshirt on for the first time since my plane ride from SFO 7 weeks ago. I woke up feeling a bit chilly, and after eating breakfast and drinking my Vietnamese coffee, I darted upstairs to grab my “מרילנד״” (Maryland) sweatshirt (shoutout to my cousin Sam who is a freshman there right now – go terps!). Of course my sweatshirt makes me stick out like a sore thumb wearing an American college sweatshirt in Hebrew. It’s the same reason I’ve buried my Israeli Defense Forces shirt and my “100% Kosher” shirts deep down in my drawers. But what can you do. It was straight up COLD on the bus this morning and I was thrilled to have a sweatshirt to put on.

But the weather here isn’t the only thing that’s changing. For those who don’t know, I am heading to Spain today, leaving behind two incredible, life changing months, and bringing all of the amazing memories, photos, and journal entries along with me.

But before I leave I want to take a moment to acknowledge just how much I’ve adjusted to my life here. I really can’t believe it sometimes. I know how to ask for cafe kar (meaning cold) when I want a coffee with ice cubes, and ice cafe when I want coffee blended together with ice (somewhat of a coffee milkshake; a must-have when in Israel). I know how to ask the bus driver in Hebrew to add more money to my bus card, and I know which button turns on the light and which requests a stop (which I only learned after too many times when the driver zoomed past my stop and I sat in my seat completely confused). I am a PRO at asserting myself and my pedestrian rights at crosswalks (always make solid eye contact with the driver and give a little wave so you can be sure they don’t hit you – Israeli drivers are very aggressive). I know how to take my falafel like a true sabra (charif & with amba). My vocabulary has changed, too. “Tov/טוב” has replaced “Good/cool,” and wanna know the secret to sounding like a true Israeli? Add “oosh” to the end of everything (Goodnightoosh, byeoosh). I have my 1.5 hour morning routine down to a science, from the minute I leave the house at 7:35 to the minute I get to work at 9:05 (my secret? the 7:45 AM #347 bus and then a 30 minute beautiful walk to work that I can now do WITHOUT MAPS!). I sit next to soldiers with massive machine guns on the bus without flinching or staring. My kids at Gan (daycare) have even started calling me Fia, the same thing my little sister Sarah called me when she was little. How’s that for nostalgic?

I still have quite a bit to work on. My Hebrew, for one small thing. Liking shawarma. Bargaining in stores. Sounding less American. I have even noticed myself unconsciously planning for moving here someday. How will I memorize where all of my friends live when I have to walk to Shabbat dinners instead of drive? How will I build up enough muscle to carry all of the groceries back to the car after shopping in the shuk? Will I ever feel like I truly belong in a country where the dominant language isn’t my native tongue?

I know I am getting ahead of myself. And I really have no idea if I will move here in the end or not. I just know that no time feels like enough here. Sometimes you go places and even if you’ve had such an amazing time you are ready to go by the end. I am never ready to leave Israel. And every time I leave I start dreaming about the next time I can come back. It’s pretty amazing to feel that way about somewhere. Israel has become home, where I have a family, a life, and a routine. I know the employees at the Aroma Cafe that I frequent after work, and I say hi and wave to our family friend Susan every day when she runs past me on her morning jog as I wait at the bus stop.

It’s crazy how you only really begin to feel settled somewhere once you have to leave. I can’t believe that in a few hours I will be touching down in Barcelona. It’s definitely going to be a change. I will be touring, visiting, a complete outsider. I won’t have a consistent schedule or a family to come home to. I won’t be cooking dinner or playing frisbee in the park with my cousins, but rather will be going out to eat at different restaurants every night, going to museums, and watching fútbol games. Everything will be completely foreign and new to me. I was talking to Simone and Daniella at breakfast this morning about how weird it is to be going somewhere and not be able to imagine the airport and arrivals hall or the scenery as you drive away from the airport. It’s not very often that I travel to completely new and foreign places, especially not alone. It is simultaneously scary and utterly thrilling.

So as excited as I am about going to Spain, to say I’m sad about leaving Israel would be an immense understatement. I could stay here forever, but that’s precisely why I am choosing to leave. That might not make sense upon first consideration but hear me out.

I always try to push myself and never let myself get too comfortable. Complacency (and sharks) are my biggest fears. Staying in Israel for the whole year – while incredibly tempting – always seemed too easy. I now equate Israel to Marin. They are both home. And I never even considered staying in Marin for a whole year. So hopefully that helps you understand why I won’t let myself stay here, but if it doesn’t, here is an excerpt from a journal entry I wrote during my first few weeks here:

“I had a really interesting realization when I was grocery shopping with Jennifer, as I was reflecting on the time in high school I tried to convince my family to move to London or Israel for a year. I didn’t think much of it at the time; I just wanted to see the world and do something exciting. But only now can I see the parallels between now and then. Sure, I wanted to move for the thrill and spontaneity, but I really wanted to because I felt myself growing complacent and bored of life in Marin. I know – “bored” and “Marin” being used in the same sentence? Let me clarify. I wasn’t bored because I didn’t have enough to do. I was bored of how predictable, easy, and luxurious my life had become. I hated that test grades, Snapchat streaks, and prom dresses were my biggest concerns. I didn’t like that I never “had time” to read or write for pleasure because I was always doing homework, watching TV, or making elaborate plans with my friends.

I didn’t see it at first, but these reasons that I felt suffocated in high school are the same reasons I felt that I absolutely HAD to take a gap year. My 10th grade self knew what she was talking about when she dreamed of rejecting the routine, the ordinary, the comfortable. She sought the unexpected, the new, and the challenging. She knew what I now know I want and need from this year, and from the rest of my life, for that matter. And that is pretty cool to me. To know that this quest for adventure has been at the back of my mind since high school, even if I did not know how to achieve this dream at the time. Sometimes it can be surprising how well you actually know yourself. You just have to be patient and give yourself the time to figure it all out.”

There will be a time when I can settle here permanently if I choose to do so. But now is not that time. Now is the time to see the world, to explore, to be challenged. Like always, I am choosing to push myself out of my comfort zone by leaving Israel to go Spain (and all of the countries afterward) though I could’ve easily stayed and never bought a plane ticket out. I am scared and excited but I know that I’m making the right choice.

Time to switch gears, and languages. Hola Barcelona, and שלום ישראל (goodbye Israel). I promise I’ll be back. Have I ever let you down?


5 thoughts on “Hello Barca, שלום ישראל”

  1. I’m so proud of you Sofia! What a great experience and adventure you’re having! You’ve already met the challenge you’ve set for yourself…looking forward to seeing what’s in store for you next!


    Liked by 1 person

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