Out of all of NYU’s sites, Tel Aviv can inspire the most caution. Sure, it shares the Middle Eastern with NYUAD, but Abu Dhabi has had far fewer issues with rockets aimed at it: not even a month after arriving, our entire student body (all 14 of us) was evacuated to the middle of the Negev. The entire experience had its ups and downs—I definitely don’t regret it, but it’s not exactly for everyone. Here’s everything you need to know to decide if a semester in Tel Aviv is right for you:
—Due to the size of the program, class selection is relatively limited, with each subject only containing about one or two courses. And within the small selection of classes, the classes themselves are also pretty tiny (there was more than one class with only one student). Small class size lends itself to a much more intimate setting than any lecture course, which goes both ways: you get to know all of your professors, but there’s no chance of skipping class unnoticed.
—As far as professors are concerned, there’s one that NYUTLV touts above all others: Eytan Fox. He’s one of the most famous directors in Israel, and he teaches a course on Israeli Cinema. The quality of his class is questionable (it’s more or less just watching every movie he’s ever directed), but he’s no doubt a good connection to have if you have any interest at all in the film industry. Apart from him, all of the professors are more than qualified, most of them holding their primary jobs at local universities.
—When I was deciding whether or not to attend NYUTLV, I spoke to other students who had gone, and they all told me the same thing: that the academics were a bit of a joke. I can’t say I disagree. I went in the midst of the High Holidays, so we didn’t have a full week of class until October. Overall, the semester felt more like one big vacation with a few essays than it did like an average semester at NYU.
—Another thing to take into account is that the class schedules are completely arbitrary based on the professors’ other teaching schedules. Almost everyone in the program was doing an internship, but because of the class schedule, the only time anyone had a substantial block of time for an internship was on Sundays (which is a work day in Israel). As someone who has spent every semester at NYU scheduling all of my classes two days a week so I could intern the remaining three days of the week, not being able to dedicate much time to a professional experience was something I had a bit of a difficult time with.
—A lot of the classes focusing on politics and sociology are pretty left-leaning and critical of Israel, particularly in regards to human rights. If you already view Israel through that lens, your perspective will be reinforced. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum, you better go with an open mind.
—Organized student life was more or less nonexistent, but also unnecessary, since the program was small and everyone was together all the time anyway. There is a buddy system you can sign up for, where you’re assigned a “buddy” from a student at Tel Aviv University. But other than that, most of the student activities were arranged through Global Orientations, the mandatory 0-credit class.
—The program itself didn’t interact too much with the city. There are a few tours that the administration offers, but other than that, most of the program’s interaction with the city is done through classes. I also took my internship for credit, which included a seminar that focused on contextualizing Tel Aviv—half of the class meetings were walking tours around the city, and half of them were info sessions on the history of the city.
—The entire program is conducted in a hostel called Bnei Dan. That was where we lived, ate and had class. The hostel expanded this semester, so now the NYU students get their own space separate from hostel guests, but still, the close proximity of everything can be a bit suffocating if you don’t get out once in a while. Fortunately, it’s in one of the more upscale areas of Tel Aviv. It’s across the street from the Yarkon Park, which is basically Tel Aviv’s Central Park, and about a ten-minute walk from the Tel Aviv port, so getting out isn’t too much of an issue.
—The nightlife in Tel Aviv is pretty great. The drinking age is 18, so no need for fake IDs. The Tel Aviv port is full of great bars and restaurants, and there’s quite a bit of a hipster scene in Jaffa, which is about a twenty-minute bus ride from Bnei Dan. That said, alcohol is more expensive than in New York—the cheapest beers cost about 30 shekels ($10), and you won’t find a 6-pack in a convenience store for less than 45 shekels ($15).
—Every student gets two meals a day in the hostel cafeteria, and the cafeteria is usually only open for breakfast and dinner. But every room has a fridge, so you can buy some tupperware and just take extra food from breakfast or dinner and then have it for lunch. The breakfast food gets a little repetitive, and the dinners (with the exception of Shabbat) are a little lackluster, but as far as cafeterias go, there’s really not much to complain about.
—Outside of Bnei Dan, the food in Tel Aviv is pretty great. The best hummus you’ll ever eat in your life. And shawarma. And falafel. But for those with peanut allergies (like myself), be warned: peanuts are in EVERYTHING, and they don’t always include it in the description on menus. Always ask your waiter at restaurants.
Sex and Dating
—In general, Tel Aviv is a really laid-back, friendly place. Go to any bar or club, and you have a good chance of getting laid. I think a big part of it is that all Israelis go to the army when they turn 18—whenever they’re on leave or after they get out, they’re just looking for a little fun. The only people in the program who didn’t get a little action were those who weren’t interested.
—The mandatory Global Orientations course includes free trips throughout Israel—to the Negev, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem. Beyond that, the multiple holidays make it easy to travel. A lot of people went to Eilat, which is a party city on the southern tip of Israel. Regional travel is a bit difficult for obvious reasons, but going to Jordan is safe and easy. There were also people who went a bit further—to Madrid, Berlin, and even Madagascar.
—The NYU-sponsored trips were free, which was nice. There are a lot of cheap bus options for traveling around Israel and to Jordan. Flights to eastern Europe were relatively inexpensive—I went to Istanbul for less than $100—and to western Europe, they cost about as much as any round-trip flight within the US would cost.
—Tel Aviv isn’t as different from New York as you would expect. As far as the Middle East is concerned, it’s extremely metropolitan and Westernized. In convenience and grocery stores, the cheapest available options for everything were all in Hebrew. I never did figure out which flavor of hummus or which scent of body wash I used my entire time there. That, and the fact that Israel is a Jewish state and very much acts like it—working Sunday through Friday and having weekly Shabbat dinner, were the most notable differences.
Why You Should Go
—Tel Aviv is such a fascinating place. The history of Israel collides with a very modern city in such a unique way. Israel is such a tiny country but plays such a big role on the world stage, and being in the middle of it all gives you a whole new perspective on conflict. It’s an experience that really can’t be replicated.
Why You Shouldn’t Go
—The obvious: if you’re the type to shy away from the idea of being 80 miles away from Syria, you shouldn’t go. The less obvious: it’s a completely different experience from NYU New York. It’s a really small program, which means a lot more intimacy, both with other students and with the administration. If you’re the kind who values the privacy and anonymity you have in New York, it’s worth a second thought.