Cam­pus vs coun­try – how I made the most of both

University in Tel Aviv is quite different than it is in Berlin. In this final blog post, I share some of the surprises and challenges I encountered while trying to do it all: Discovering the Holy Land while preparing to succeed in my exams.

Selfie of Dafne with her friends
Outings with friends - an essential part of my time in Israel. Photo: private

A different university experience

The student experience at Tel Aviv University is quite different from the one at HU. One of the most striking differences is the average age of those attending classes: after high school most Israelis have to serve in the Israel Defence Forces and after finishing their duty (lasting three years for men and two for women) they usually take a gap year that they spend travelling to foreign continents. As a result, Israelis usually begin their bachelor’s degree quite late compared to Germans. It’s also normal to see young people in uniform across the country, even on campus sometimes - for example, if they visit the Museum of the Jewish People there.

Secondly, TAU’s students tend to have more classes during the semester than Berliners. Although seminars and lectures are similar in duration and frequency (between an hour and a half and three hours once a week), the courses are worth less credit points than those at HU. Therefore, you might need too to take more classes than you usually would in Germany. As for me, I took five: an amount which allowed me to perform well in my exams while still leaving me time to visit the country. Of course, I was required to read papers between one class and another; but I got quite lucky: only one professor made us read three long essays before every lecture.

To study or to travel?

If you ask me, striking a balance between studying and travelling is central when undertaking a semester abroad. Staying on track with lectures while confronting yourself with different structures and methods (and a different language!) takes extra effort; but only by exploring can you fully grasp a country’s history, the beauty of its culture and the richness of its social fabric. And if this is true for every country, it is even more so for a complex one such as Israel. Therefore, during my stay in the Holy Land, I deemed discovering it as important as succeeding in my exams. This led me to mostly study during the week, so I had free time to travel on my least busy weekends. Sometimes, I organized short outings with friends – in fact, the country is so small that one can easily reach most important places in few hours; other times, I joined trips organized by the university, for example a three-day tour to the North of the country.

But to be honest, I also enjoyed my classes. The topics were interesting and my professors were kind and willing to help students. In most of the cases, you could perceive their effort to get to know each of us personally, instead of just teaching from the lectern. Two classes that I took, in particular, are worth mentioning. The first, about sustainable urban planning, gave me new insights about how the design of a city can induce new eco-friendly lifestyles. In the second, pivoting upon the life of hunter-gatherers, took us to the Nayaka people of India. The professor, an anthropologist who had lived among them for several years helped us discover this group and their concepts and approach towards plants and animals. I was genuinely excited to go to class!

Surviving exam period

And then, exam period arrived. As an international student, this time of the year comes always as a little shock. In fact, ideally you should complete all your exams while still in the country: this way, you can proceed fast to the conversion of your grades and their registration into your transcript of records. In concrete, that means having deadline after deadline to meet in a very short amount of time. As for me, I would have had to do my five exams concentrated in only twenty days. In theory, having such a tight schedule could have had a very positive effect: in less than one month I could have potentially finished all my university duties and been able to relax. But I won’t lie, I had to ask two professors for an extension to be able to ‘survive’.

In the end, it may have taken me a little longer, but I still got through all my finals and managed to travel Israel from Akko (in the North) to Eilat (in the extreme South) with my family, who came to visit me just before my visa expired. I survived! Now, sadly, my time in Israel is up. Attending Tel Aviv University, visiting so many important places, meeting people speaking other languages and practicing different religions was a unique experience: I truly feel that I grew a lot. Leaving your home country to study abroad can be scary; but trust me, you will never regret it.

(Published 6 March 2023)