This past week, Adam and I have officially been in Israel for 10 months. It is at this time that it feels like we have really reached a turning point in our adventure. First, Adam’s grant is technically for 20 months so he has reached the halfway point of his fellowship. In addition, we plan on returning to the United States officially in early to mid-July, so a year from now we will be leaving Israel. It seems like things are really transitioning at this point in time.
This post is to provide a general update on how things are going for us as we reach this turning point. Hopefully you have enjoyed our detailed descriptions of the things we have been doing, so I won’t repeat those adventures. The point of this is to reflect back on what we have done so far here and what changes we feel like we have gone through. It seems like an appropriate time for this type of post.
Let’s start by talking about math. After all, that is the reason we are here! We tend to highlight the interesting things we do here in our blog posts, but those posts don’t really represent our day to day living. In a typical week, Adam does math for about 7-8 hours a day on average. Some days he does less if we have errands that need to get done, and other days he does more, either to compensate for those days when he worked less or simply because he became so involved in his work that he lost track of time. All his effort has been well rewarded. He has developed a theorem for his research project and was able to speak about it at a conference in Bulgaria this month. It was a stressful process to prepare for the talk, but it went well. Adam has also spent a lot of his time making connections with other mathematicians. He is currently in the process of starting three new projects with three different people. He has so much that he is interested in, and it is very cool that he is collaborating with other people. Up to this point, his projects have been done on his own. It is a very different experience working with someone else.
Adam is also reaching a turning point with his mathematics. In the upcoming month, jobs for the 2014 academic school year will be posted. Although he has already started thinking about this, the next few months will be filled with updates of research and teaching statements and writing cover letters. The application process is very stressful, and we try not to think too much about it, but as we approach September, it is a reality that must be faced head-on.
My everyday activities have morphed greatly over the last 10 months. Amazingly, I am back to having too much free time where I spend a lot of time laying on the couch, although there is none of the sulkiness that I felt when we first arrived. After all, I am pregnant and the resting is much needed at this stage. Plus, since that mopey stage, so many opportunities arose that there was a time where I felt overwhelmed with everything I had to do. Starting in February, I was babysitting three days a week and teaching three days a week. As I wrote about previously, I got a job teaching Physics and AP Environmental Science for the Ramah TRY program. The program ran from the beginning of February until the end of May. It was really an amazing experience and feel so fortunate for the opportunity to work there this spring. It was great to be part of the teaching world again with my time filled with lesson planning, making activities, grading, and of course being in the classroom. My largest class had seven students, so grading was never as painful as it had been, and I really do love making activities. The students were amazing and seemed to find my class engaging even if it was challenging. The inquiry-based activities I made using slinkies, cheap magnets, flashlights, and simulations from PHET were a great success! The students looked forward to exploring concepts in this more “hands-on” way rather than just listening to lectures all the time. The administration was also happy with the change in curriculum style; they liked to see the students getting more lab experience. It felt good to be successful with my curriculum.
Working at the TRY program also offered a very different teaching experience. Since I only went to work when I had classes, there was less of a departmental environment than back home, which I missed. Also, since I was the only Physics and AP Environmental Science teacher, there wasn’t anyone to really collaborate with. I didn’t mind building the curriculum myself, but working so much on my own made me more aware of the great collaborative relationships that I had build at Southington. The other teachers working at TRY were very nice, and despite some of our pedagogical differences, we got along very well. The administration was very easy to work with, and I feel like I was able to use my public school experience to help with some of the organizational issues that arose throughout the semester. I definitely felt like a productive member of the TRY faculty!
The other major difference between working for TRY and working for a public school is the student-teacher relationships that develop. Working in a public school, it was always important to maintain boundaries and while at TRY, my instinct was always to maintain those boundaries. However, it is more difficult to do so when the students are so far away from home. As a teacher, I am part of their community and am an integral part of their safety and happiness while in Israel. During the first few weeks of classes, the students had a host Shabbat during which they travel to friends or family for Shabbat. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, a few students will need a place to stay, so the administration will ask the teachers to provide hospitality. Adam and I offered our home to two students from the program, one of which was actually my AP Environmental Science student. While the students were here, I wasn’t in teacher mode which felt weird. We went about our usual Shabbat activities; we had dinner with them, played board games, had lunch with them and a few friends, and even played ping-pong on our dining room table with them. They were very good guests, and they must of had a good time because other students were telling me how much fun it is at our house on Shabbat and they weren’t even there! A few even hoped they would get a chance to stay with us in the future. Throughout the weekend, it was a bit weird to be my normal self around my student, but in the end it was a good thing. At least my student can see that I am a normal person, with a normal life, rather than some robot that is pulled out of a closet every morning so that I can teach. The time spent over Shabbat helped me get to know my student a bit better as well so I was able to connect with him more during my classes. It was a positive experience for sure, but not one that I would want to have with students from a public school. This was definitely something special here in Israel.
That was the only Shabbat that we ended up hosting students, but we saw more of them at our synagogue throughout the semester. During services, I didn’t pay them too much attention since I was there to pray, but at kiddush (where you talk and eat), I always made sure to say hello and see how they were enjoying Shabbat. They always seemed happy to see me and were always excited to meet Adam. Again, it felt weird to see them in my private world, but at the same time it was nice to share Shabbat with them.
The semester felt like it went by very quickly, and when it came to a close, it was hard to say goodbye. To end the year, the school had a lunch in honor of the teachers. We were each given a mug with a picture of the students on it. I love that I have such a great reminder of the semester. I look forward to meeting the next group of students in the Spring!
After teaching ended, I continued to babysit until the middle of July. The boys are so fun that I always looked forward to it. Plus, it was amazing to watch the little one grow. When I started babysitting, he was four months old and basically could only lay on his back unless placed on his tummy, which he didn’t much care for. The last week I babysat, he turned one and had already been cruising around the house for weeks. He would stand for a second or two without holding on, but once he realized that he was on his own, he tended to sit down. That was about two weeks ago. This past Shabbat, we had lunch with the family and learned that he has taken a few steps. He wasn’t willing to show us, but we trust that he can do it. In a few weeks, he will be all over the place! My older charge will be four in August. We spent a lot of time together as we walked/took the bus home from gan, so I felt really connected to him. He was very excited to see me yesterday at lunch, which was nice.
It was so hard having to say that I had to stop babysitting this month. I feel so much a part of the family that ending babysitting felt like I was abandoning them. It was the right thing to do given my size at this point. I can’t play on the floor as well as I used to unfortunately, plus I am often tired because I don’t always sleep well at night. However, we really have developed a great relationship with the family so I know that we will still see them all the time, as friends.
With babysitting and teaching, volunteering became a bit too much, and I had to take a step back. I am still doing a little bit here and there, especially now that I have a lot more free time on my hands. Because of my pregnancy, however, I am much better at advocating for myself. If I feel like I can’t do something, I say it, which as many of you know is hard for me to do. I have never been good at saying “no”, but now I have the strength to because it is important for our unborn child that I take care of myself.
So since the middle of July, I haven’t really had much to occupy my time besides grocery shopping, crocheting, and the other usual household chores. Those activities don’t take all that much time, so I do tend to lay on the couch and watch movies or watch old episodes of shows like The Facts of Life, but I exaggerate when I say that I lie on the couch all day. Besides our daily activities, Adam and I are preparing for the arrival of our little one as best we can. Our first step in preparation was taking birthing classes with our awesome doula, Ilana. There were four sessions, which were amazing and informative. We feel as prepared as we can be for this incredible process. There are still preparations to make, but we feel like we are moving in the right direction. Plus there are certain things that you just can’t be prepared for. This whole becoming a parent thing has quite a learning curve.
In addition, this month I began ulpan. Once again I tried to take a level 1 class and once again it got cancelled due to low enrollment. Apparently I am one of the few level 1 Hebrew speakers in Jerusalem. Anyway, because now seems like the best time to take Hebrew, Adam and I decided it was worth the money to take private lessons. It is through the same ulpan that Adam went to, and so far I have had four lessons, and it has been amazing! I can say important phrases now like, “I understand a little Hebrew but I speak English” and “I want to drink water” and “I want to buy a book from the bookstore.” It may not be that impressive, but I think it is pretty good. My tutor is wonderful, and I look forward to having more classes with her in the upcoming weeks. I know that since I only meet with her for an hour at a time that I won’t be fluent, but I don’t care. I never intended to become fluent; I just want to leave Israel knowing more Hebrew than I came with. Mission already accomplished, but I might as well learn a bit more. 🙂
Sprinkled in amongst these mundane, everyday life kinds of activities, we have continued to develop friendships and have found a community. The list of people that we want to invite for Shabbat meals seems so long sometimes, it is amazing that we have met so many great people in such a short period of time. Even more amazing is that the list keeps growing as we meet more and more people. The friends we have made are wonderful, and we feel like we are getting to know them on a deeper level now that we have settled in. We are also very happy at our shul, Yedidya, and I can call it our shul because we officially became members this month. Although, to be honest, it felt official a month ago when we went away to visit friends in Ra’anana for Shabbat and the following week someone pointed out that we were away. They noticed we weren’t there! I think that speaks for itself.
All this has been happening while we continue to explore Israel. Reflecting on our time here so far, I can confidently say that we are happy and that coming here was the right decision for us. We are still not making aliyah (just in case you were wondering), but we are enjoying our time here and feel like we are really fulfilling the goal of the Fulbright program. We are making positive connections with Israel and with the people here. Not bad for 10 months. Just imagine what is going to happen over the next year!
Until next time…