Shalom from Tel Aviv
It has been about 3 weeks since I arrived in Tel Aviv, so an update is well overdue. The first week was a busy one, the biggest task was looking for a place to live and getting settled. Rent in Tel Aviv is actually paid in USD, not Shekels. I was told that this was done to stabilize the rental market because the Shekel has not always been the most stable of currencies (inflation was rampant a few years ago). The real estate market in Tel Aviv is a bit nuts right now. Its tough to find an apartment rental without knowing people, and even tougher when you're looking for a short-term rental. The b-school experience has taught me the value of a network, but the housing search in Tel Aviv underscored it. Not only was I lucky enough to crash with my Israeli friend A. that spoke Hebrew to get me through the process, I found my place through connections. Most of the advertised pads that I had seen were kind of dumpy, but my apartment is central, reasonably priced, and comes with a very naughty but lovable puppy and a bilingual roommate that is nice enough to tell me what the hell I blindly buy at the grocery store.
So, all settled into my place and having snagged a mobile phone, I was privy to my first ever Chanukah dinner. From the berakhot to the dreidels to the jelly donuts, its was great to observe the start of this Jewish celebration with an Israeli family - a very fitting introduction to my time in Israel. Here is a picture of my friend A. and his Mum, who were my very gracious hosts for dinner and my first week in Israel.
I also attended a reception held by the GSB for Israelis interested in the program. I, along with 4 Israelis that are currently GSB students, presented to a group of about 50 prospective students. It was interesting to see how my fellow GSBers tailored the presentation to the Israeli audience. From what I have gathered, Israelis in general tend to be pretty pragmatic and focused on the quality of classes and experiential learning during the MBA, and how the degree will improve the job prospects in the future. This isn't particularly unusual, but it seems like they focus less on the MBA as an "exploratory" or "transformational" experience, but more of a way to secure the path that they have decided upon. This is due in part to the experience that Israelis go through before graduate school. Most Israelis serve in the army for several years before attending University. As a result, they are older students, definitely for their undergraduate education and likely also for their graduate education. Many of the students that are in the MBA program with me work while attending school. So it made sense that the prospectives were very focused on the practical aspects of the MBA experience. We spent plenty of time discussing the various aspects of the Chicago GSB program that would lend itself to these interests, such as the ability to tailor one's educational experience given the flexibility of the curriculum and the experiential learning opportunities like the various lab courses. All in all, I think that the presentation went very well and people were happy with the discussion. I also ended up meeting an Israeli guy in person that had contacted me months prior for some advice on the GSB, and had decided to attend the reception.
After the reception, A. and I went to get falafel at a joint on the way back to center. The falafel guys were great, and let me make my own falafel, which involves scooping the paste into a small hockey puck-shaped steel mold with a handle, and then dumping into hot oil.
Let's just say that after one try of tossing the falafel into hot oil, I handed the tools over to the experts!
The past several weeks have been spent in more subtle acclimatization. Figuring out the bus route to get to school since classes started the week that I arrived (school is located in Ramat Aviv - a suburb located about 10km outside of central Tel Aviv), meeting other students, and exploring the neighborhood. There have been more mundane activities, but no less important in helping me feel settled, like having drinks or coffee with folks, spending a few hours listening to a jazz guitarist in a cafe, and going shopping with a friend. I also spent my birthday having a cozy dinner with the other Israeli GSBers that were visiting family during the winter break.
Overall, first impressions of Tel Aviv are overwhelmingly positive. The weather, for the most part, has been beautiful (despite it being 10C and sunny, Israelis are walking about bundled up like I do in Chicago when its snowing and -10C). The city is very navigable, the beach and outdoor market are within 15 minutes by foot, the coffee here is phenomenal, the hummus, shawarma, and various vegetable salads rock, and the people are very friendly. My inability to speak Hebrew has not been a huge issue as most folks speak some English. I'm slowly starting to pick up a few phrases and think that learning the alphabet will be the best way to speed up the process.
Now that most of the GSBers have returned to Chicago, its time for me to get cracking on meeting some new folks. Last night, I went to a great bar in Yafo, which had a great atmosphere and played a Boney M. remix (which automatically gets huge points in my book). I managed to meet some new folks and get an invite to a New Year's Eve party being held here. Hmm. We'll see if I decide to attend.
Other than that, not much planned for this week outside of preparing for class. I have a presentation due for class on Tuesday and am meeting with my group this weekend. I went to get my groceries today at the mall (yes, the mall has a grocery store), which was chaotic. Fridays are generally very busy here because everything closes early. The work week is Sunday through Friday, but most shops close in the early afternoon on Fridays. Friday evening marks the start of Shabbat, and everything is closed on Friday evening and Saturday during the daytime. Plenty of stuff opens up on Saturday night, but I didn't think it was possible for me to survive the day without restocking the hummus in the fridge. ;) Shabbat Shalom y'all.