Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Two days ago in the life of Vicki

Ok. So I've started writing e-mails to my mom and Dan to explain what's up with my life. Since I'm too lazy to type anything different, here is a reprint of the day before yesterday's edition:

Yesterday I told you how I was making powerpoint presentations about American online banking practices because Bank HaPoalim is getting ready to revamp its entire site. Today, in half an hour, I am presenting those slides to one of my bosses. Hopefully they look ok/are spelled correctly, mostly because I did half of them in Hebrew, and I really don't want to be laughed at. :). I am having a lot of thoughts and perspectives and theories at this point, and it's going to take me such a long time to explain everything that's going on. Yesterday was a really action-packed day for me. Right after I came into work (straight from the bank where they wouldn't cash my traveller's checks and I was late, but did anyone care? Nope.), Shai, one of my coworkers, approached me because the Bank HaPoalim website is applying to win awards in the European Financial Site awards, under the categories of "best use of it in retail banking" and 'outstanding achievement" for their Poalim Ontime program. Like I said before, it's really cool because you have alerts sent by sms to your cell phone or your internet account anytime something happens, like your balance is too low or you cash a check, etc. They are the first in the industry to do this, and the first to offer sign-ups at branches instead of online. American banks don't even come close to anything like this, and I am really jealous. So tomorrow, I have to present a proposal for the technolgoy awards. Today, I am just working on that, and hopefully I'll get it done.

At 1230 yesterday, we had a half-day workshop that was REALLY REALLY INTERESTING for all the interns. When we came up to the floor where the meeting was supposed to be, of course there was no one there to tell us where to go, so we stood around for 10 minutes while people walked by us. So Israeli. Then, all the interns (including Jon, our last roommate, who flew in yesterday morning and was going on 3 hours of sleep) went into a conference room. First, we had the CFO of the entire bank (really big deal) come in and talkt o us about changes in Israel's capital (investment) markets over the past twenty years-very very interesting, although I kind of fell asleep a little because his voice was very soothing and we dont' get much sleep. Next, we had lunch-FREE! A big deal for me since I am down to one meal a day and trying to save money. After that, we had a very itneresting woman, Nadine Trajtenberg, the head of the economics department in the bank (very very cool, because she does what I want to do-analyzes macroeconomic policy and future macroeconomic trends for the bank in the Israeli/world economy) and she was very classy. She made aliyah from French canadia, but she has a very slight accent and spoke English, French, and Hebrew, fluently. She was also the only woman in the room wearing a suit. How American of her. :) Anyway, so Nadine is a PHD in Economics from Harvard. eeeeeeee. It was very exciting for me, as you can imagine.

After that, we had coffee (brought in by the Russian "servers" in our building-all the cleaning staff in our building is Russian. I don't know whether to be offended or see if I can get a discount on tea every day.) And after that, was the most fun part of all-a consultant cam in to give us a presentation about How Americans and Israelis operate differently in work environments. The consultant himself was born in America, made aliyah when he was in 5th grade, so he speaks both perfect English and perfect Hebrew and knows both worlds. He first started out by asking us what surprised us at work. The consultant then presented the differences betwen Americans and Israelis at work and how to deal with them, the most important being that we communicate differently. For example, Americans will say, "Um, I liked your file, but if you have time, could you just please look over section c? It needs a little work." Whereas Israelis will say, "This is wrong." And etc, etc. He also said that Israeli bosses are almost equal to their coworkers, whereas American bosses are a little more above them. I think I'm starting to like the Israeli work system a lot more, and I'm not looking forward to an American internship next year.

After that, all of us, including the two new additions, Danny and our roommate, Jon, left to walk home. After that, I got a call from Bella, one of my mother's distant, distant friends, and she offered to take me to the shuk (market.) So she drove me to the Shuk HaKarmel (which is maybe 3 blocks from where I live? What's the point?) and I bought cherries and grapes! Love Israeli fruit. Love it, love it, love it. I eat Israeli fruit all the time. I ate watermelon all day yesterday. And I love mint. After that, I went home to meet up with Batami and David, and they went down to the beach, I said I would join them later because I had to buy a book that Nathan (my Hebrew teacher last semester) wanted.

That was fun. I stood there, figuring out how to ask them whether they could look it up for me because I can't read Hebrew well enough yet to look for books among stacks, and I actually got along pretty well, but the process of figuring out what you want to say 5 minutes before you say it is really exhausting.

After the book store, I walked down to the beach with Batami and David, because Jon actually went to Jerusalem that same night to see the girl he is dating-wow, that is devotion. Seriously. He could have waited. I went down to the beach and we watched the sunset. It was soooooooo pretty. Afterwards, we called up Ben (intern), and Talia (intern) and the other Ben (also intern) and went to the store, iced tea and and drank it and just talked. One of the Bens actually met a friend who he knew from yeshiva who was in the army, and the friend's friends came too. They are all soldiers right now, so it was funny to see them in unifrorm on the beach. There were three guys and a girl, and they are all in teh unit that trains dogs to sniff for bombs. They told us a lot about it, and it was really interesting. They have about 300 dogs in the unit, and each person is responsible for 10 of them. Their commander is "Big Russian Mikhail" and he apparently beats the dogs if they don't behave. They train german shepherds, labradors, and some other breed that was intranslatable into English. Every time I talk to soldiers, I feel really guilty, because I feel that I should be one as well, instead of slacking around Israel like an American.

Anyway, then they took off their army clothes and just sat around in t-shirts and shorts talking to us, drinking, and smoking hookah. It's so funny that they're our age, but they have so much more responsibility and so much more weight, but they act younger. They had to be on the base by 5 in the morning to walk the dogs (it gets too hot later), but for now, they were just enjoying being young. It sucks that not everyone serves in the army. But I'm sure I would have a different perspective if I actually lived here.

I am constantly having thoughts about Israel, aliyha, being Jewish, regular Israeli life, international affairs, China, and business education while I am here, and I want to make sure that I record them all so I don't forget

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Pianos and Beach, Beach, Beach

The last couple days have been much, much better in terms of acclimation to the country. On Thursday night, our whole internship group went on a tour of Neve Zedek, the first Jewish neighborhood to be established in Tel Aviv. It was then that I really started feeling that I'm in Israel. I'm in Israel! The neighborhood was so pretty, and our tour guide was very interesting, telling us stories of how it was developed (it served as Jersualem's port before Israel became a state. This is why there are so many lions all around the area, because the lion is the symbol of Jerusalem.) Also, the houses are all so pretty, with shaded balconies and flowers growing everywhere. It's just so amazing to sit at the beach (which I've been doing a lot of recently-don't worry-I'm using lots and lots of sunscreen) and think that Jews just came from the sand, upon the sand, and built an entire city out of dunes. It's incomprehensible, how they toiled in the heat, for a hope. But now I'm waxing Zionist.

Anyway, during the tour, we came across the Susan Dallal center, which used to be the first public school in Tel Aviv, and there were five couples getting married there! Not getting married, but taking wedding pictures in the premesis. We were assuming that the weddings would take place tonight. It was so beautiful, and all of us were just staring at the brides. The photographers invited us to look. There were five couples getting married: three secular, one religious, and one Muslim. It's things like this that make you hope for peace, or at least a really pretty wedding of your own :). In Israel, since everything is informal, one of the brides came up to talk to us and our tour guide (a very very Jewish 60-year old man) told her a joke: Why does the bride go to the Wailing Wall before her wedding? To learn how to talk to a wall. It was the best experience I have had in Israel, up until last night, which I will get to a bit later.

After the tour, we went to dinner at a shishlik (kebab) restaraunt in Neve Zedek, and the food was just soooooo good. I love Israeli food so much. For starters, we had carrots and humus and pita and couscous with lemon and Moroccan cigars (kind of like egg rolls, but smaller and filled with different things, and house wine. Then there was kebab (I had chicken) with stuffed zucchini, and afterwards, there was baklava and tea with mint. We were so full. The best thing was that dinner was free. :) Which is a good thing, since I have been trying to limit my spending recently. Afterwards, me, Batami, David, and two other interns, both named Ben, went back to our apartment to figure out what we would do for the night. We ended up going to a bar to watch Japan versus Brazil-it should have been obvious who won. Afterwards, we went home late, since we don't work on Fridays. It really throws off our schedules, because we don't work Fridays and Saturdays, due to Shabbat, but come in to work on Sundays. Today, I feel like I have the whole weekend ahead of me, which is obviously not the case.

On Friday, we slept in late since we've been having to get up early every other day of the week and went to breakfast. Even the croissants here are better, more like they are in France. But again, I may be biased towards Israeli cooking (did I say this already?) After, we went to the beach for the whole day. It's really fun to go to the beach with just Batami, because Israeli guys are really friendly, and they'll just start shamelessly flirting with you. Obviously, we know better than to flirt back, but it's just amusing to see how they'll do it, guaranteed. A pair came up to us and asked where we were from, etc, and then said, "You know, you two look like sisters." They are so bad at pickup lines. They did, however, tell us this up and coming area to go to for nightclubs in Tel Aviv (although I forget what it's called,) and later on, we ventured there, completely by accident.

We came to a piano bar where a woman was doing a Billie Holliday tribute, and it was just beautiful. Her voice was so amazing, and the instruments, and the mood was right, and we just sat there with glasses of wine, drinking it all in. It was at that point that I felt a great love for Israel, an overarching presence that just makes me feel at peace being here. She sang for about an hour, and then we left because the crowd was filtering out.

Today, we are just going to be at the beach and maybe go to the area again tonight, but we need to clean and get ready for the workweek, because our last roommate, Jon, is coming tomorrow. Also, work tomorrow! I am working on a powerpoint presentation of online banking practices in America, and then after I finish with that, of how online banks annoucne news to customers on their websites. It's really interesting to see that banks like Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Wachovia, and Bank of America are benchmarks for Bank HaPoalim, because we think of these banks as being important, but not that big of a global impact (unless I haven't studied them in depth yet.)

My Hebrew is ok, but I have bad days here and there, and I really can't understand when people talk to me. But, I hope it will be better by the end of the summer.

Love to everyone!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Futbol v'Falafel

Everyone at work is reading my blog. שלום לכולם שקורים זה מהבנק :)
Aside from that, I don't have much excting things to report. I went to a workshop on how to build better business webpages in Herzliyya. It was really really exciting because it's exactly the kind of thing I do-pick apart websites and also research businesses to see if they could be doing better (kind of like consulting, which I am also extremely interested in.) Although it was all day, I really felt like I got to know the people in my department, even though I met them all on Sunday, it was such a blur that I didn't retain too much, whereas now I feel much better about everything, and less overwhelmed. I am also starting to pick up on more Hebrew, and I even feel more confident just talking in Hebrew, even though I still have to think the phrase over in my head before I say it, just to make sure it sounds right. It's really amazing that I can just walk up to people on the street and speak to them and if not understand all of what they say, at least part of it. It might sound vain, but I feel really accomplished.

Yesterday, my roommates and I wandered all around the city, because we never try to stay at home in case we miss something. We went down to the beach to watch a soccer game on big screens that they put up at the beach and around the city because everyone is huge soccer fans in Israel, not like in America. It's really exciting because I feel like there's a bond with the people just watching soccer and cheering. It's kind of cheesy I know, but watching soccer under the stars last night was really good.

Tonight both of my roommates are gone, to meet friends/relatives, so I am just chilling out in the Internet cafe, but tomorrow I think I'm going somewhere with Elan, whom I met on the beach just randomly because he thought I was on Birthright since Batami and I were speaking English to each other. He is really nice. Don't worry, nothing bad is going to happen to me, for anyone who might be concerned (parents? Dan? Mer? Penn State?) and you can always call my cell phone.

Love everyone. :)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Shalom ma'aretz!

Ok, so I've made it here. Now that I'm here, I don't know how much time I will have to write, but basically everything is crazy. Batami, David and I (three out of the four people living in our apartment) are busy trying to get settled in and getting used to life in Tel Aviv. The first morning I got here, I was just in such a shock, and I don't think it's even hit me yet that I'm in Israel. When we landed, it was about 7:30 in the morning and since then, it has been a blur of meeting Batami, David, figuring out where I work, going to the beach, getting burned in the process, seeing how the Israeli work system is much much different from America, and just generally getting used to living in a country that, although I feel is my own, is very foreign in many ways.

There are many things that are different about America and Israel. Some things are amazing, and some really suck. The amazing thing about Israel is that complete strangers (named Elan) come up to you on the beach and strike up conversations and you can talk for hours about Israeli politics or Jews or Iran or the cost of living in Tel Aviv, and you are just flabbergasted by how straightforward they are compared to how closed Americans are. And then they give you their cell phone number, just because. In our case, it was Elan, a student at Bar Ilan University in (what else) Computer Science who was on the beach the week before his exams started. Batami and I were at the beach all day for Shabbat, because in Israel, everything closes for Shabbat (Friday/Saturday) and you are forced to go to the beach. The funny thing about the beaches in Tel Aviv (we went to Frishman) is that the lifeguards become very snippy and yell things at the people in the water because they don't want to leave their lifeguard booths and actually go. I was informed that they make more than doctors in Israel, but apparently, everyone makes more than doctors in Israel, which really sucks, because they have to go through the same amount of training as we do in America.

The other good thing is that all the food is fresh and they have falafel. As many of you know, I have a strange fetish for falafel that can only be satiated in Israel, and I have been doing a good job of it, eating falafel only once so far, but hoping to do so in the future as well. The eating is good here, and relatively cheap, depending on where you go. I want to go to an Ethiopian restaraunt, but David (my roommate from Cornell) seems to have talked me out of it by saying he had a horrible experience.

Today we went to work, for orientation, and now I know how it feels to be an immigrant, because my boss tried to communicate with me in Hebrew, but since I don't know enough, he had to talk to me in English, and try to translate the documents, but I battled on and tried Hebrew. I met everyone who works in my department (e-banking) and was overwhlemed by everything, but hopefully I'll start to "vrybatsya" (start getting stuff) after the first couple weeks. The other interns seem interesting, but I didn't really get to know them that well yet, aside from Batami and David. I'll have to inform you on my progress tomorrow.

Everything else is good. I'm still in disbelief that I'm in Israel. There are bad parts about this country, like how some neighborhoods are really dirty, Israelis are rude, and the sunburn. But I love it. I am living my dream.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

If you are reading this, you are too close to Israel.

I most likely will not post until I get to Israel (if I ever get there, according to my parents, who think that I can lose my way trying to get out of a paper bag. Rest assured, parents. Vse vrodi horosho. The operative word being vrode.) I am not nearly packed enough, not nearly ready to leave, not nearly in the right frame of mind for Israel. The Israel frame of mind is this special feeling that you get when you land in Israel. Israel is no different from any other country. It has the same soil, the same people, the same buereacracy and rudeness. Yet why does the Israeli frame of mind develop, one where everything, from the sun, to the sea, to the most mundane piece of land you walk on, becomes special? At least it does to me, probably because I do not live there. But the whole point is for me to get a taste of that. For me to be able to talk not from a zealous Zionist perspective, but from one of having lived in Israel and seen it all, to becoming cynical about everything and reclaiming the title, "there is nothing new under the sun."

I don't want that to happen though, and, as a result, might stay in the Israel frame of mind, which starts the minute you get off the plane, and stops as soon as you encounter customs. Just kidding. If my parents stop nagging anytime soon, I will be able to get in that state of mind and be able to call a taxi in Hebrew, arrive at my apartment, meet Batami (one of my three roommates,) and start getting ripped off in expensive department stores that cater to tourists. Hopefully I will also meet some Russians so I never ever have to speak Hebrew with my horrible accent, my horrible horrible vocabulary, and my horrible horrible classroom Hebrew education. :) And then I will go to work and find out what e-banking is all about.

As a wise anonymous man once said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." As Vicki says, "A journey of 11 hours begins with getting up at 4 am to go to the airport." There had better be coffee-like beverages on the plane. And falafel. After all, part of living the Israeli lifestyle is changing my food pyramid to falafel three times a day. It's a sacrifice, but one I'm totally willing to make.

להיתראות,ומחרותיים בארץ

Monday, June 12, 2006

Procrastinators of the World, Unite

So, I must admit that I am not even close to packed. Well, ok. I have a suitcase open. There are some clothes thrown in it, surrounded by sundry items I've picked up around the house when I thought of them, and a bunch of clothes that I've been taking out of the suitcase and wearing. Oops. I actually started again today, but the more I put it off, the more I feel it will never be finished, and the more I feel that I'll forget something and have to buy it for three times the price in Israel (motto: We are Jews selling Jews expensive things.)

What made it worse was yesterday's visit to see Dan. I went on Saturday and left yesterday, and it was one of the hardest goodbyes I have ever had to make, despite the fact that I will be back soon enough. Saying goodbye is always tough, but what makes it better is knowing you'll be back with lots of presents and stories and pictures :).

Today, my quest entails finding out about travelers' checks, to pay for my apartment. Since I have never used them before, this will be a "real life" experience for me. Also, I am going to figure out whether I will get internet in the apartment or not. It seems like it would be a good idea, to publish pictures, but at the same time, I don't want to be online too long and miss out on what's going on around me. We are going to have Internet at work and email, etc, but I'm not sure how much I'll be able to post on my blog or send pictures, etc, especially since I'll be at work. Also, this is not ethical. At least in America ;).

On I go to work and continue packing. Maybe by 5 am Thursday morning, I'll be done.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Phone? Check. Tickets? Check. Sanity? Nope.

Ok. I must appologize for hyping this blog up, and then simply not writing in it. I think the inevitable truth is that as soon as I start making preparations for this trip, then I will actually acknowledge that I am leaving and then the truth that I am leaving many people who care about me behind, and who will worry that I might die. Obviously there is foundation to that, but not nearly as much as people think. In fact, you are safer in Tel Aviv than in America. If you don't believe that, you haven't been keeping up with our flawed national security system. But that's another story entirely.

I rented an apartment. Well, it's more accurate to say that Batami (one of my fellow interns, from Texas University) found the apartment and secured it for us. We will be living in Dizengoff Tower. Here is the exact address if you wish to write, although I'm not sure what the mail situation is yet:
1308 Dizengoff 50, Tel Aviv, 64332 (the complex is called Dizengoff Tower)
You'll have to format the address in Israeli fashion, which I'm not entirely sure what it is. Batami (female), myself, and two boys will be sharing a 1-bedroom 800 square foot apartment, with or without internet (not sure what this situation is yet, either.) Knowing what I know about my boyfriend (mainly that he is a slob-I mean that in the nicest way, honey,) I am a bit reluctant about living with boys, but again, I'm sure it will be an adventure and part of growing up, especially since they keep kosher, and those of you who know about me, know that I most definitely do not. We plan to eat out a lot to keep the disagreements at a minimum.

An adventure is how we are going to get from the apartment to work, since it's at least a 30 minute walk, at least by my calculations, and the internship hasn't provided very much of...anything in terms of information for us. Oh well, it should be an adventure.

I've also gotten my Israel cell phone today in the mail, so if you are interested, you are most certainly welcome to have it if you ask :).

Other than that, I have not even remotely started packing, in fear of evoking the inevitable, the fact that I will be having a great time in a place I really want to be, with my loved ones left behind. And so I sleep, read, scrape together money for the numerous falafels to follow, and count down the days to the greatest adventure of my life.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

At last!

Well! It looks like we have found an apartment for four people (all of them on our internship, two girls, two guys) in the middle of Tel Aviv. It is extremely expensive ($1600/month) but it had better be well worth it! Here is a picture of the building:

And now time to start packing and panicking!