Wednesday, July 22, 2009

First Impressions as a New Immigrant

As of today I have completed one full week as an olah hadesha- a new immigrant in Israel. I don't think my head has stopped spinning long enough to clearly synthesis my experience thus far... However, I would like to leave you with a few stories and impressions.

1) I'm wanted! This is so clear by the fact that the government has a Ministry of Immigration that focuses not so much on hunting down and kicking out "illegals" (think US) but welcoming and processing new comers. After one week in the country, I am an official Israeli citizen (actually- I was the moment I passed through customs at the airport as much of the paperwork was completed in advance), I have my Israeli ID card and my immigration papers. I've gone to a "fair" for new immigrants that had various cell phone/ internet companies, health care agencies (health care is provided by the Israeli government but I get to choose my provider), and banks. (How convenient is that!) And it was at said fair where I could pick up my Israeli ID card- a process that took about five minutes from start to finish.

2) I'm wanted! I've also been about town (Jerusalem! Ani garah b'Yerushalayim! I live in Jerusalem!) Every time I go into a store, the bank, etc, the other citizens welcome me. And it's like I'm living in a city full of Hebrew teachers... People with patience to allow me to try out my Hebrew even though we could complete the transaction in much less time in another language. Additionally, people take the time to teach me new words and phrases. I don't think any experience could be more welcoming. These experiences are not limited to my immigrant experience- last summer I had an amazing Hebrew teacher for a cab driver -he was so patient and clear as he used our time stuck in traffic to teach me!

3) Highlight of the day: Today on my bus I gave my seat up for an elderly lady with some bags. When the person next to her got up she stopped other passengers from sitting down in the vacated seat and pulled me towards it. Then we had a little conversation based on what I've learned in my first 4 days of ulpan (Hebrew class). She was so sweet and she invited me to her house so that she could help me with my Hebrew! (I was just so happy to have enough Hebrew to carry on a ten minute conversation... a very basic conversation, but nonetheless!)

4) Being trilingual is no longer such a big deal. Most people who are studying at the same ulpan with me already speak 2-3 languages, in addition to studying Hebrew. The primary non-Hebrew languages are Spanish (Latin America), Portuguese (Brazil), French (France, Morocco, Algeria), Russian (Ukraine, Russia) and English (USA, Canada, South Africa, UK). Other languages spoken here include Hungarian, Turkish, Italian, Yiddish, Afrikaans and Japanese. (I'm sure there are many more!) I'm having amazing fun living in a place full of polygots!

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