You all knew it was coming…the obligatory reflection post.
An inevitable rambling of the thoughts and lessons learned over the past ten months of my life. I moved to Israel with only the knowledge that I would be in a classroom with kids, teaching English and living in Be’er Sheva, Israel’s third largest city situated in the middle of the Negev.
Needless to say, I had little clue of what I would really be doing during this self-inflicted gap year. To my pleasant surprise, I would be learning how to become a real human being.
And what does a real human being look like you might ask? In my opinion it’s someone who feels, one who asks questions and takes risks. One that decides to say yes instead of no. Someone that gives instead of takes. Someone that laughs as hard and as often as they can. Someone that takes care of their body and enjoys as much as they can with as little as possible.
Maybe this theory is a bit too broad, though. Well, I’ve got ten things. Ten reasons why I feel more alive than ever before. Ten things that I learned, cultivated and/or practiced over the last ten months of my life outlined below for your reading pleasure/my catharsis.
Thing #1 Learn a Language
The idea, act and practice of learning a language is one that takes an extreme amount of dedication and enthusiasm. I struggled with this dedication for a large portion of my time abroad, but looking back now, I realize how much I took in and the benefits gained. I activated parts of my brain that hadn’t been used in a very long time and made connections through my existing knowledge of language formation. The fulfillment and empowerment gained when you learn new ways to communicate with people is invaluable to an infinite degree.
Thing #2 Teach Children
Being around kids all day gave me the biggest boost of inner energy I’ve felt in a very long time. It’s a kind of energy that is so pure and just. It’s the kind of energy that brings out the best parts of you and makes you want to be better at anything and everything. You are constantly being watched and imitated. It’s up to you to give the students something useful and positive to mimic.
Thing #3 Never Say No
Yes and no are very simple words with a whole lot of meaning. The act of saying no is so tiring. It’s depressing and addictive. It’s covered in laziness and boredom. Saying yes to a salsa class, a hike with friends or a spontaneous trip to Tel Aviv fights off the downward spiral of no. The upward spiral of yes keeps you interesting and happy – it’s a simple equation with countless of benefits.
Thing #4 Live on Less
Money can buy happiness. It allows you freedoms that not having money wouldn’t necessarily give you. But that doesn’t mean freedom and happiness are forsaken in times of low dollar signs. It only means it’s time to get creative. It means your challenge, instead of where and how to swipe your credit card, is to learn to use what you have, to be less wasteful and more ingenious. In the end, that creativity lends to a more rewarding and fulfilling life experience.
Thing #5 Stay Outdoors
I was able to find the beauty in nature again. Instead of spending all my hours looking at a computer screen, I went on more hikes with friends, journeyed to the beach and sought out parks to practice my hula hooping skills. Being outside had a way of bringing my mind and body back to reality and steered my brain away from negative thoughts. Don’t believe me? There’s science behind it!
Thing #6 Patience
I remember getting annoyed at an overly-extended red light, a long line at a grocery store and a day that was just too hot. But when you live in an area where actual issues range from terrorist attacks to conscripted army service, perspective starts to hit in and patience becomes a whole other beast. Extreme, but true.
Thing #7 An Appreciation for Judaism
Not only did I learn more about the Jewish holidays and how many there actually are (somewhere around 12), I was able to get a better sense of what it means to be Jewish. Although the extreme end of the religion includes aspects I don’t fully agree with, I can appreciate the way the religion is centered around being a good person, helping those in need and appreciating the importance of nature and the beauty of the world. I don’t feel any more religious than I was before, but it’s comforting to know that what I was raised learning actually aligns with the person I want to be at this age.
Thing #8 Give Instead of Get
I knew that it always feels better to give than to get, but after volunteering in a school for a year and understanding the kind of relationships that were created with the kids, that feeling has sunk in deeper than it ever has. It’s probably true that the more you give of yourself and your time, the greater that warm-and-fuzzy feeling lasts. After my kids’ performance of Frozen, a musical I directed for the last few months of my time in school, I realized that there is no way these kids will forget me or their exposure to the English language. To say I experienced overwhelming joy doesn’t even do my true feelings justice.
Thing #9 Travel Alone
Fear of the unknown and the unplanned kept me from traveling alone for a very long time. One wouldn’t have described me a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of girl but there was a part of me that wanted to break that so badly. After a week in Berlin, I realized traveling alone was a real possibility, and more than that, it was much more enjoyable than tagging along with someone else. My trip to Greece set my solo sights in stone and now I’m even more motivated to take longer and more challenging solo trips. The qualities I gained from just a three-week journey on my own – confidence, spontaneity, patience, and maturity – are just a few reasons why I know I will keep traveling alone as goal and a promise to myself.
Thing #10 Love Where You Live
For ten months I lived in a poverty-stricken, hot-as-an-oven city overrun by cats in the middle of nowhere. Technically speaking, Be’er Sheva is not one of Israel’s proudest gems. But instead of taking the bad with the good, I learned to either ignore the bad or turn it into something of a joke. I think that’s what most of us did to survive, and surprisingly, it worked! The best part was that I ended up being happier in Be’er Sheva than I think I would have been anywhere else in Israel or the world.
So there it is. It’s my ten things that, I believe, turned me into a human being – more aware and conscious of the world around her, willing to open up to new experiences and help people.
And as I set off into the next part of life, and try to figure out what my next step, job, and city will be, I think of what Howard Thurman said:
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who come alive.”