180° Expat Experience

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June 2006 – Bucharest – Tel Aviv flight

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Ben Gurion Airport. Local time is 8:45 pm and the temperature is 30 degrees Celsius. For your safety and comfort, we ask that you please remain seated with your seat belt fastened until the captain turns off the Fasten Seat Belt sign. This will indicate that we have parked at the gate and that it is safe for you to move about.”

I remember like it was yesterday – the flight, the landing, even the security passport control. “Welcome to Tel Aviv!” they greeted me. This time the purpose of my visit wasn’t a holiday. This time The Holy Land was my homeland.

The best place to spend your time on a sunny day.

The best place to spend your time on a sunny day.

Welcome to my 180° expat experience! When I had to start from zero and build myself a new life in a country where you find your latest news from CNN and usually there is no good news from Israel. Oh, boy, didn’t I experience that sooner than I thought! Exactly a week after my landing, all of a sudden the war with Lebanon started. That was a hell of a “welcome” to Tel Aviv! It was the last thing that I expected. My parents insisted I go back to Romania and so I did, but for a few days only. That was my first shock as an expat: I was now living in a country that was at war.

When I heard about other expat experiences from Europe and America I feel like saying out loud: “Piece of cake! Try living in the Middle East!” I’m not trying to portray myself as a hero, after all I moved here on my own free will. Or better yet, the will of my heart, since I followed the man I love. The real heroes are the ones on the battlefield – I can’t believe that I’m writing this sentence in the XXI century.

My favorite building in Jaffa - “I took my world apart to be here with you”

My favorite building in Jaffa – “I took my world apart to be here with you”

What I’m trying to tell you is there is no doubt that living here is a unexpected and different journey than anything I have experienced before. On one hand, Tel Aviv is one of the best place to live in, with a high standard of living, with sunny days and great weather more than half of the year. But on the other hand, you can find yourself running to the bomb shelter in the middle of the day. The worst part is that you get used to it and you continue your life like nothing ever happened.

What is so different about Israel?

For me, an expatriate coming from Europe, everything was different. Allow me to present to you the top 5 things that struck me the most and turned my world up side down.

Let’s start with the small things. The first thing that surprised me was that Friday and Saturday are the weekend days and on Friday afternoon all the stores are closed. I think this was the most difficult thing to deal with 🙂 I mean, what’s a weekend without shopping?

The second shocker was that the majority of the population is enrolled in the army immediately after graduating – men for three years and women for two years. Not to mention that the basic training lasts between one month (for women) and one year (for men). Only people with serious health problems are permitted not to enroll.

My friend Elinor & I in Jerusalem at the Western Wall

My friend Elinor & I in Jerusalem at the Western Wall

The third surprise – they don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter, but they do have Hanukah, Pesah, Rosh HaShana (the New Year’s Eve – celebrated in September or October) and other many mourning holidays – Yom HaShoa (Holocaust Day), Yom Kippur and Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day).

The fourth major difference: writing from right to left. Not to mention the language itself.

Hebrew is not an easy language to learn at all, I think it’s the most difficult language I have studied so far. It took me a few years but I finally did it. I think it depends how easily you adjust to the Hebrew grammar. It’s very easy but it’s so different from English or other Latin languages you may know.

The fifth thing to deal with was the kosher food. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. “Kosher” is a Hebrew word that means “fit” or “proper”. When used in relation to food products, it means that the item in question meets the dietary requirements of the Jewish law. I won’t start telling you about those laws because it will take me a lifetime. Well not exactly, but I promise to do it in another post. Why do Jews eat kosher? Through the years, people have suggested theories about the health benefits of kosher food. Some say that kosher food is less vulnerable to parasites and bacteria. Others theorize that the non-permitted species of animals are hunters whose natures might affect the characters of the people who consume them.

Be that as it may, the bottom line is that Jews eat kosher because God told them to do so, whether or not they understand the whys and wherefores. If this is what God commands, the observant Jew trusts that this food is the best nourishment for him, body and soul.

Now, after seven years of living here, these began to become the normal realities of my daily life. My secret was to add surprises to the life I was accustomed to. So now I have 10 more religious holidays.  I celebrate the weekend twice: once with my friends back home on Sunday and once on Friday. And moreover, now I have two names, not just one: Luca and Hannah 🙂

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Luca is the founder of XPATGirls.com. No, it’s not a he, but a she and she’s not Italian but Romanian. She’s currently based in sunny Portugal and in her past life she was a world traveling fashion model jumping from one exotic location to the next. Her motto in life is that the world is a book – the more you see the better the story. While she has a great interest for fashion and travel, her love for people is greater. She is a certificated coach in positive psychology and a happiness trainer. On top of that, a proud mom of twins. She thinks being a mom is the most challenging, difficult and definitely most rewarding jobs she has ever had.

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