Reflections on my Fulbright

Friday, September 12, 2014

By: Jason

When I was first awarded my Fulbright Fellowship, I was amazed and completely overwhelmed. I had initially thought that this was above and beyond my capabilities given the prestige and honor that come with such an award. I wasn't sure if I wanted to truly commit to living abroad (and in the Middle East). However, after giving myself some time to think more in depth about the decision and talk with friends and family, I quickly realized that accepting and engaging in Fulbright work was not only unique, but necessary. Even upon attending the Fulbright orientation in Washington D.C., I still had some doubts as to how my experience might be.

At the shuk in Jerusalem

As my Fulbright appointment grew closer, I was regularly in contact with my host at my sponsoring institute, the University of Haifa. My host was extremely helpful both in outlining our goals for the fellowship, as well as assisting with the logistical challenges that come with moving abroad and setting up for research in Israel. Within my first week in Israel, I realized I had made the right choice and have never looked back. Not only has this experience helped me to become a better scientist and teacher, my time spent abroad has truly allowed me to transform into a better person provide a positive influence on most everyone with whom I interacted.

Hunting for limpets (to feed my lobsters) with Ehud in Akko

I certainly had preconceived notions about the people I would meet. Instead, I was surprised by the diversity and breadth of individuals in not only the University setting, but our neighborhood, and throughout the country. I met people of all ages, colors, religions, and backgrounds. I had the opportunity to not only interact with academics (my assumption from the beginning), but with individuals in so many different scenarios. The collage of people that I had the pleasure to meet, talk to, and work with allowed me to see the true scope and vision of the Fulbright mission.  

Israeli soldier at the border in Rosh Hanikra

From an academic perspective, I believe my Fulbright experience has given me research and teaching opportunities that I would never have had. These experiences will eventually help me in moving forward with my career, but that is only part of it.

Since recently completing my Fellowship, I have had some time to continue to think about these impacts. I still come back to the most fulfilling part, which was the unique opportunity to forge new friendships, professional collaborations, and share opinions and perspectives. I can unequivocally say that my experience has been transformative and I have grown personally and professionally by leaps and bounds.

Hiking in Haifa

We Wrote the Book on It

Monday, August 11, 2014

By: Rebecca

We've been using this blog as a travel diary, a way to communicate with friends and family, and to have something to remind ourselves of our adventures.

As fun as the blog is, it's still not something we can hold in our hands. Rather than printing out thousands of photos and filling up numerous photo albums, I decided it was time to try my hand at a photobook. The result was great and it's been fantastic to be able to bring the book when we visit friends and look through it together. So much more sociable than sitting around a computer staring at a slideshow.

I tried a couple of online photobook sites, and after some playing around, I settled on Mixbook. I loved how easy it was to customize the fonts, colors, layouts, etc. Since I was using the editor online and not uploading files from Photoshop or InDesign, having the flexibility in the software was fantastic. 

Since not all of you will see the finished product in person, here's a slideshow of the whole thing. Happy reading!

Mixbook - Create stunning photo books, cards and calendars! | Design your own Photo Book with Mixbook's easy online editor.
Note: The opinions in this post are my own and not in any way sponsored or solicited by Mixbook.

On Going Home Again

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

By: Rebecca

When we first arrived in Israel, it was hard not to make comparisons to things in the US. We found ourselves doing less and less of that as we became more familiar with living in a different country. There were always things we missed and things we wished were more like home, but we did adapt - probably better than we thought we would. 

I had thought that coming back to the United States would be something I looked forward to without any backward glances. I was surprised to find that I was not completely glad to leave. Ultimately, I am glad to be home (the US definitely feels like home), but I will miss Israel more than I thought. 

Spring flowers in the Galilee

Living abroad was an unforgettable experience. No matter where you are from, living in another country for awhile will open your eyes. I considered myself to be pretty aware of what was going on in the wider world. That is even more true now. Even just watching the news from another country gives you a different perspective. 

Our friends and family were worried for our safety because the impression in the US is that Israel is a dangerous place. It can be, but so can the United States. Granted, some of the dangers are very different (I never thought about rocket attacks in NH), but there are dangers everywhere. Israelis face threats head-on and the day-to-day life reflects the general awareness that something could easily happen. When you go to the mall, bus station, university or even the movies, you go through a metal detector and/or have your bags searched. If you drive to the mall, they search your car. Invasion of privacy you might say, but it's all in the name of safety - same reason you don't argue with metal detectors at the airport. The first few times I went to the grocery store in NH, I started to hand over my purse. It had become habit, just like I always fasten my seat belt in the car.

We will adapt to being home and, although it may take a little while, the US will once again feel like a familiar place. It is said that you can't go home again, but I don't think that's true. You can go home again. It's just that there may be more than one place to call home. 

Adventures in the Negev

This experience opened our eyes and taught us things we'd never have imagined. We hope that it has opened your eyes as well, especially now. As the conflict rages on between Israel and Gaza, we hope that our friends and family are safe. You can read more about our thoughts on the ongoing conflict in our post from a few weeks ago.

We have a few more blog posts in the works to wrap up our Israeli adventure. We hope to continue to blog about our travels and may even continue to write about the everyday. Not sure if we'll change the name of the blog or not, so stay tuned...

Haifa - the Well-Tempered City

Saturday, July 19, 2014

By: Rebecca and Jason

We have spoken a lot about our home away from home in Israel. One thing we really appreciated about Haifa was the mix of cultures it offered. We visited the other two major cities (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) on many occasions, but are still glad that we ended up in Haifa. Tel Aviv feels like lots of other big cities - it did not have the same Israeli vibe as Haifa. Jerusalem, although beautiful and fascinating, is very intense. We found it to be a great place to visit, but not somewhere we'd want to live.

Despite our best efforts, we could not put our feelings of Haifa as eloquently as A.B. Yehoshua did in this article for Newsweek in 2011:

I am a proud native of Jerusalem, the fifth generation of a Jewish family that came to that illustrious city in the middle of the 19th century. Nevertheless, after the Six-Day War of 1967, my wife and I made the conscious choice to leave Jerusalem—not to move to Tel Aviv, like so many of our friends, but rather to go farther north to the port city of Haifa. Nearly 45 years later we still congratulate ourselves on this wise decision, not only because religious and political divisions have altered the character of Jerusalem—and undermined its sanity—but also because of Haifa’s unique qualities, which become clearer as time passes.
If I had to define Haifa in a single phrase, it would be this: the well-tempered city. This seaside city offers an ideal blend of various elements, which, in other parts of Israel, give rise to disharmony and conflict...

Read the rest of the article here.

One of my favorite views of Haifa from a park near our apartment

In the past few weeks, we've thought more about our time spent in Israel. Peace, for the moment, seems elusive at best. Perhaps the rest of the country should look to Haifa as an example of how to live side by side with people whose views differ from your own.

When the Sky Falls

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

By: Rebecca 

Although we are back in the US, we are holding our breath along with all our friends and family in Israel as tensions mount between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We were fortunate to be in Israel during a time of relative calm. We know that our friends and family in the US were worried for our safety, but in reality, we never felt in danger. It's always different watching something from afar - the news agencies always report the worst or blow things out of proportion.

It is different this time. This time there are things to worry about. Rockets are threatening Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and even close to Haifa. We have friends who are running to shelter upon hearing the sirens. People we know are reminding their neighbors how long they have to get to a shelter - 15 seconds to 2 minutes - not very long in any case. We will check in more often, pay closer attention, and cross our fingers and toes.

We have always tried to remain neutral on this blog, to stay above the political fray and to share our experiences good or bad. We had many wonderful interactions with Arab Israelis, all of whom are grateful to be living in a country that allows them to practice their own beliefs; some of whom are in (or have children in) the IDF. We hope that those friends and neighbors are safe as well. 

Even though we are grateful to be back in the US, we also feel somewhat guilty for being here while our friends and family are going through these troubling times. It's hard to watch the news and see places we love under fire. Here's hoping for an end to the violence and a return to a stable (if not peaceful) situation. 


México and Mayans

Monday, June 30, 2014

By: Rebecca and Jason

Last month, Jason attended the 10th annual International Conference and Workshop on Lobsters in Cancún. Yes, an entire week devoted to all things lobster (including one evening of eating them). We decided to make a mini-vacation out of the trip so we flew down a couple days early to have some free time before the conference started. 

The view from our hotel balcony

The first night we arrived we went out to dinner at a restaurant just down the street from our hotel. Called Navíos, the restaurant is built on a pier on the lagoon-side of the barrier beach. We had some fantastic food (smoked marlin tostadas with avocado and picked onion was just one offering), tasty drinks, and great service from our waiter, Alberto, who looked like a Mexican version of Danny Divito.

On Sunday, we escaped the torrential rain in Cancún and took a bus tour to Chichén Itzá. Like all bus tours, there are several stops, but our favorite was Chichén Itzá itself. One of the new seven wonders of the world, the site was built by the Mayans around 600 AD. Having seen two of the other sites on the list (here and here) and the only one left of the original seven (here). We were impressed! We hadn't realized that there was more than the one huge pyramid. The site is quite large and varied. There are many temples to various gods, a market, ballcourts, roads, etc. Although I'm sure the tour guide had good things to say, we ditched the tour in favor of wandering around and getting a feel for the site ourselves. 

The great pyramid at Chichén Itzá
The ball court at Chichén Itzá
Temple of Sacrifice
At Chichén Itzá's sacred cenote

On the way back to Cancún we stopped in the town of Valladolid. The tour was running late so we only had a short time to wander around the main square, see the huge cathedral (San Servacio) and get a snack. We would have loved to explore the streets with their Spanish Colonial vibe - maybe next time.

The last stop before the long drive back to Cancún was a cenote (sinkhole). We took a quick swim in the cold, but refreshing water and stared up at the stalactites hanging from the ceiling. It was late and not so sunny, but the water was still a beautiful shade of blue. We got out feeling relaxed after a long day of sightseeing.  

I took a day off from the conference to visit Isla Mujeres, an island off the northern tip of Cancún. I took the ferry to the island and spent the afternoon wandering the quaint (though very full of tourist) streets and walking along the beautiful beach. Later in the week, Jason visited the reef off the island on his SCUBA trip. He got some fantastic photos and saw an abundance of marine life including, of course, lobsters!

Entrance to the beach on Isla Mujeres
Boats in the Isla's harbor
Mermaid statue on the east side of the Island

We would definitely visit the Yucatán again. Next time we'd love to do more exploring. Although the beaches of Cancún are gorgeous, there is so much more to do in this part of México. 

Stayed tuned for Jason's post on SCUBA diving. See more pictures of our trip here: 


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

By: Jason

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Megiddo contains 25 cities that have been built successively one on top of the other in the form of a Tel, or hill. In some place you can actually see cross-sections of the building materials from each civilization in the side of the hill. Megiddo is located about 15-20 miles from Haifa (about a 45-minute drive) and it overlooks the beautiful Jezreel valley.

The view of the Jezreel valley from Megiddo

 The earliest civilization during the Calcolithic period dates to around 8,000 BCE (or about 10,000 years ago)! Tels are very common throughout Israel, however Megiddo is highly complex and one of the best places where one can observe multiple civilizations that include Canaanite, Assyrian, Egyptian, and Israelite, among others in a relatively natural state.

Layers of history

This site was also named Armageddon and mentioned in the Book of Revelations by the Greeks and became famous (or infamous depending on how you look at it) for several battles. The modern usage of the word denotes end of the world’-type scenarios. Tel Megiddo also served as a main fortress on the Roman military road to the sea or Via Maris (see the last paragraph for just how important). The Egyptians waged war in two separate battles here, one against the Caananites and one with the Kingdom of Judah. The details of these battles are still found as hieroglyphics in underground Egyptian temples. More recently, Megiddo was the battle site between the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey) and the British army during World War I and the Mandate period.
Ancient temple with circular altar

This is really one of those places that you have to stop and just try to take it all in one step at a time. There’s no speed walking through this place or you’ll be bound to miss the ancient temples, homes, and horse stables that are 1,000s of years old.  

One of my other highlights was the view and the surrounding fieldsMy friend and colleague Alex informed me that what appeared to be an ordinary agricultural field was, in fact, an un-excavated Roman fortress that is considered one of the largest in the Middle East!  Not that I didn’t believe Alex, but we drove up to the field after our Megiddo adventure and walked briskly up to a small hummock where, in about two minutes, Alex overturned a few rocks and pulled up some Roman artifacts!!  Pretty cool!  FYI, it seems as though this site is going to be excavated this summer, so it will be interesting to see how it looks the next time I go.