It’s officially been seven months as of April 2020, since I moved alone from NYC to Tel Aviv. The transition has been a rollercoaster with the first three months proving to be some of the hardest of my life. COVID-19 hasn’t made the past two months the easiest either. Adjusting to a country you think is your second home, having lived there temporarily before, is so so challenging.
Dealing with the government, realtors, a landlord who doesn’t speak English, setting up Internet, a bank account, cable, water, electric, Arnona (city tax), Vaad Bayit (house property tax) are just some of the difficulties I have experienced. Almost all of these company websites are fully in Hebrew with no English option. I have learned a lot about myself, living in a foreign country, and about Israel and Israelis since moving here. While COVID-19 has side-racked a lot of the “fun parts” of moving abroad and meeting people, these still stand true and I’m excited for the post-COVID return of living abroad in our homeland.
Some of the most important things I learned during the transition (first ~3 months):
It’s very different from America.
Everything here is a process. Nothing takes one try/call/visit. Nor do these take less than 30 minutes. Ever. Things that come natural and quick to us in America that we take for granted, ie, online shopping, free shipping, fitness studios of any kind, clean beauty salons, getting medical prescriptions and doctor appointments, upgrading your Internet speed, applying for a job and more, are the complete opposite here.
Also, if they know you are American, business owners WILL try to take advantage of you. No matter what. There are no exceptions. This applies to landlords/realtors/ store owners/house tax/gym owners. Everyone.
Lastly, having a washing machine in-unit is truly a gamechanger. I’ll never be able to go back to New York apartment living without one.
You gotta have friends.
Having friends that are native Israeli and/or speak absolute fluent Hebrew (with no American accent) is lifechanging: they will be the ones calling these companies for you and to that you will owe them everything.
Having friends that are ex-pats with no Hebrew that have experienced this firsthand is also life-changing: you need people to complain to (we are Jewish after all) and also get the reassurance that you are not the only one who has dealt with these issues.
Tel Aviv is magical
Tel Aviv is its own bubble and is seemingly unaffected by anything else going on around the entire country. So much so that if you do not read/watch the news on your own time you would not even know that there are bombardments of rockets, border breaches, and more going on just a mere few hundred miles away.
Also, Tel Aviv sunsets are therapy.
Some of the biggest differences I have encountered living in Tel Aviv vs. in America:
Israeli and ex-pat hospitality.
Israeli’s hospitality and openness are next-level. They will invite you into your homes, help you with any task you may need, and drop anything for you. They also LOVE that ex-pats would move to their country and do not understand it. That being said, Israelis also come off as some of the rudest/most blunt people ever to outsiders. As a New Yorker, I don’t find it much different but sometimes they are so blunt that it shocks me. It’s something you get used to very quickly.
Americans are given a bad name a lot but here, ex-pats are some of the nicest people you will meet. In America, it’s hard to make friends when moving to a new city. Here, everyone is in the same boat and everyone is open to meeting new people, making new friends, and just getting together to talk.
It’s become so natural to walk around kids who are ten years younger than me carrying guns larger than my entire body that you don’t even look twice.
Also, everyone here has a story. Every Israeli has a background different than yours, whether it’s where they or their family grew up, what they experienced in the army or their post-army travels and more. No one has a linear “normal” path here and it’s amazing.
The vibe, in general, is way more relaxed and carefree than in the states. At home, I found that everything was about a strict path of where you are supposed to be at a certain age: personally and professionally. In America, you live to work. In Tel Aviv, you work to live. Israelis have gone through struggles we will never understand. They really live like it’s the last day, every day. Every night of the week you can find the restaurants and bars filled to the last table with people just hanging out with friends, drinking a beer and unwinding together. In America, it’s hard to find bars open and completely full on a Sunday-Wednesday night at all.
Israeli politics and culture.
Politics are just as, if not more, complicated, confusing and mixed as in America. Period.
And learning the native language (Hebrew) will help you in a million ways I cannot even explain. All of the other times I have come here I could get by with my English and a little bit of Hebrew as in Tel Aviv everyone speaks English. However, knowing Hebrew and even just trying to speak even when you mess up a word/sentence makes Israelis more open and sympathetic as they know you are a local and trying, vs. just an “obnoxious American tourist.”
I still stand by my decision to move here alone 10000x and would do it over again. Even with COVID-19 ruining my plans for a few months. Moving abroad, to any country, fully alone with knowing only a handful of friends, is truly a life-altering, life-growing, mind-growing experience. I’m excited for the next seven months+ and the rest of the time to explore this beautiful city and country I feel extra lucky to call our homeland, and my current home, every day. You can read more about my experience living in/what to expect when visiting Israel here.