Israel began as such an odd happen of circumstance.
So many things simply came together in a manner that had any one of a number of small events gone slightly differently then I would never have gone. Not for work, and probably not for any other reason.
Had the global recession not kicked in, had the Germany economy not initially resisted before collapsing, had the German government decided not to essentially pull all of its funding for science overnight – then my German would be significantly better right now.
Israel the experience, started with a very simple question that I never managed to escape. Why not?
I was at a European conference for my particular branch of science, giving what I thought was to be swan-song and final farewell to academic science. Still carrying my pride, I was sure that if this was to be my final hurrah then it was going to be the best possible representation of me that it could be.
I put hours (and if I’m honest) days of my life into creating the perfect 20 minute presentation. Hand crafting figures, beautiful graphs, thoughtful colour schemes and a rehearsed, professional script.
When my time came to present, I took the floor, opened my mouth and time passed without any real comprehension of what was happening. Instinct carried me through.
At the end of my presentation, I left the lecture theatre audience in a stunned silence. The chair of the session, politely asked if there were any questions for my very thorough talk.
Then a small hand was raised from the back of the audience, the face masked by the lighting on me reducing the audience to silhouettes.
Have you slept at all in, in the last 3 years?
Came the question. I nervously chuckled to myself and replied succinctly, “No – no not really.”
I took my seat, shell-shocked by the whole experience, thinking to myself, well, that was that.
Later, after another talk, I was glad to get to the coffee session and rehydrate slightly. I was enjoying small talk with an old friend, when I was politely tapped on the shoulder by the same hand that I had seen raised before.
Turning, I could now identify the face to which the hand belonged. A great and reputable professor stood before me, one that I had never even considered myself smart enough to talk to. Her words were short and direct.
Have you ever considered working in Israel?
I rather uncharacteristically tripped over my words and replied with, “No – no not really.”
She went on to explain that the weather was rather good, and she was willing to fly me out so that I could see Israel, her lab, the projects that they were working. If I liked what I saw then I need only say the word and the position was mine.
The notion of an all expenses paid trip to Israel, with the opportunity to speak with and walk around the group of a professor that I had never dreamed would be on my level was an opportunity too good to miss out on.
Not knowing what to expect, I booked the flights, got on a plane and found myself in Israel.
Sure enough, to my Western thinking mind I found myself in a whole different world. A world that simultaneously managed to feel like Europe, North America and the Middle East had all been thrown together quickly with some bits sticking and some bits falling. The avenues and boulevards of Tel Aviv felt just like any other Mediterranean city, with espresso bars and much shade. The markets in the old city felt like I was in a travel documentary exploring Morocco. The transport solutions felt oddly British. The cultural impatience felt like a reality show set in Los Angeles.
The truth is, as I sat alone in my hotel room in the evenings, I didn’t know if I could make it work there. I was pretty sure it was too much. A new country, a new culture, a new language and none of those things were remotely based on the experiences in my life up until that point. As much as this was a great opportunity, I thought that this might be a step too far.
When I got back to the UK, I gave myself a week to think before I decided one way or another.
I mulled over the opportunity versus the cost.
All the time, I kept coming back to one idea.
Pain is only temporary.
In 20 years from now, would I regret not going?
I knew acclimatisation would be difficult, but in life we rarely regret the things we did, only the things we chose not to do.
Nagging in the back of my brain was the question: why not?
Fear was not a good enough reason not to do something.
After all, the best things in life happen when we put ourselves outside of our comfort zone.
By the end of the week, my mind was decided. I was going to Israel.
And with it, a plan crystallised in my mind. I needed to finish my PhD, fast. I needed a visa, and plane tickets, and to sell all my stuff, and a million other things.
This was the start of a great adventure, and with it I started my first audiobook.
“How do you say “hello“? ….. Shalom … lom … lom … sha … sha … sha-lom … shalom…”