If as early as 6 months ago someone looked into a crystal ball and told me that in January I would quit my job and move to Israel for an unpaid internship at a tech start-up, I probably would have burst out laughing. ‘That’s completely insane’, I would have told them. Yet, here I am, across the world, writing this from a tiny studio apartment in the vibrant center of Tel Aviv. When life gets predictable, it’s time for a plot twist.
An outsider looking into my life before this twist would think that everything was just peachy. I was climbing the corporate ladder, traveling to exciting places, and overall, leading a fun and busy life, surrounded by close friends and family. It was the kind of life that I envisioned for myself and worked incredibly hard for – so the fact that I was not content was just as much of a surprise to me as it was to someone looking in from the outside.
The truth is, I was craving a change of scenery. And I knew myself well enough to realize that a new job, a short trip, or even a new condo in downtown Toronto wouldn’t be enough (or at least not for long). No, I needed a drastic change. Something that would take me completely out of my comfort zone and challenge me in every possible way.
Why now, why Israel?
I found a Masa program called Career Israel that let me pursue several lifelong goals all at once: living abroad, furthering my career, and exploring my roots and identity. What drove me to action was the realization that the longer I put an opportunity like this off, the less likely I would be to go through with it. Being in my mid-20’s and unattached, it was a case of ‘now or never’.
Through this program, I’ll spend 5 months living like a local in Tel Aviv, working during the week, and exploring Israel on the weekends. A lot of people would look to Europe for this kind of adventure, but for me, Israel made more sense.
1) An opportunity to work in “Start-up Nation”
I’ve been intrigued by tech start-ups for a long time now. I love the pace of innovation, culture, and exhilaration of being on the ground floor of a company that could potentially be the ‘next big thing’.
Israel, and more specifically, Tel Aviv, is famous for its dynamic tech start-up scene. The country has been called the “start-up nation” for years and, today, only Silicon Valley rivals it in number of start-ups per capita. With major companies such as Waze, Wix, Houzz, Payoneer, Fiverr, and Viber making their debut here and countless incubators and accelerators, Tel Aviv is an exciting place to be if, like me, you’re passionate about the start-up world.
I’m working at Veed.me, a platform that connects people who need a video with professional videographers from around the world. The platform manages the selection process from a vetted list of incredibly talented videographers, project management flow, and payments. Veed.me has been around for less than three years and already has some amazing clients like Google, Waze, Duracell and others. It’s also on the Forbes list of 16 Israeli Startups Ready To Take On 2016.
Having just launched a re-designed interface, Veed.me is at a very exciting time in their journey. My role includes messaging and content creation, PR outreach, and marketing strategy. I’m learning the product and customer experience inside out, and in true startup fashion, wearing a lot of hats and contributing to all areas of the company, not just my specialty.
2) An opportunity to strengthen my Jewish identity and ties to Israel
Being Jewish was never a big part of my identity. I was born in the former Soviet Union (a place where anti-Semitism was rampant and practicing the religion was not only hard, but dangerous), and after immigrating to Canada when I was eight years old, I spent the better part of my life living in Woodbridge, a predominantly Italian suburb of Toronto.
Six years ago, I had my first encounter with Israel. Like most Jewish twenty-somethings, I went on Birthright. I remember many people from my group had a visceral reaction as they stepped off the plane into Israel – they were home. Me? I felt nothing out of the ordinary. I had other things on my mind: Would my new boyfriend lose interest while I was away? Am I safe here? Where’s the best place to party? Wait, do Israelis actually eat salad for breakfast?!
Don’t get me wrong – I thought Israel was a beautiful country and had a fantastic time during the free ten day trip, but it was just a vacation in my eyes (highlights of Birthright include floating in the Dead Sea, riding a camel through the Bedouin desert, and rafting through the Jordan River). I tuned a lot of the ‘boring’ historical and political information out. At the end of the trip, I thought I saw everything I needed to see here and had no desire to return. How very childish of me. I’m older (and hopefully wiser) this time around, and I’m here on my own dime. My mind is open, I’m present, and I won’t be missing any learning opportunities. I can’t afford to.
I think it’s important to clarify that it’s not a religious experience that I’m after here. Rather, my objective is to gain a better understanding and to develop a more educated opinion on the state of Israel, learn about the history and culture of my people, and pick up the basics of the Hebrew language. Ultimately, I feel this experience will enable me to better relate to Israeli and diaspora Jews from all walks of life.
3) The important life experience of living abroad and adapting to a new environment
Living abroad takes you out of your trance. It wakes you up. It makes you pay attention to every little detail of what is happening to you and how it’s making you feel, think, and act. Your world is suddenly different and you have to adapt.
With its dust storms, sirens, and (sometimes) brash people, Israel is a very unique place to live as a foreigner. Here, I use a Dood and squeegee the floor when I shower, bargain at the Shuk for groceries, attempt to use Hebrew phrases, and constantly get lost (and found). Coming in to this not knowing a single letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Ulpan was no walk in the park, grocery shopping can be perplexing, and if it weren’t for the beautiful miracle of Moovit, I’d probably always miss my bus stops.
Through my program arrangements, I’m very fortunate to live right in the center of Tel Aviv. I have great transportation, all the top bars and restaurants, and the beach right at my doorstep. With the great location though, there is a trade-off: the living arrangements are dorm style and very basic, to say the least. To give you an example, the other day, I boiled eggs on a hot plate on the floor. It’s not a glamorous life, but I love it. Every day I’m learning what I’m capable of and I know that I’ll emerge as a stronger person at the end of my experience.
4) New friends and personal development
After university, it’s not easy to make new close friends. Lucky for me, I am here with 42 other young professionals from nine different countries and all walks of life. It’s a privilege to meet so many great new people and develop friendships with like-minded individuals from all over the world. New friends who I’m sure I’ll stay in touch with years after the program ends.
But, since I’m being completely honest here, constantly being with a big group is actually quite intimidating for me. While it’s very reassuring to be in a new place with a big support system and others in the same situation, I’d be a lot more comfortable if I were here on my own or with a couple close friends.
Let me explain. I’m an introvert and my voice tends to get lost among big groups of people. It’s something that I’m very self-conscious of, and unfortunately, not something I can easily change. The good news is that I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress over the years by actively putting myself into these types of situations.
I’ve actually come to enjoy icebreakers (they used to terrify me), know my way around a networking event, and feel good about my participation here so far (believe it or not, I even karaoke-ed!).
5) Much needed time to reflect and explore
As part of my program, I am required to work less hours than I’m normally used to. More free time means an opportunity to reflect, spend extra time on my hobbies, and explore new places and interests.
I also purposely didn’t bring a lot of stuff and don’t plan on buying anything but the bare necessities for my apartment. Having minimal belongings will help me de-clutter my thoughts and focus on what’s important.
My favorite thing about the area I live in is that it’s less than a fifteen-minute walk to the beach – my happy place. By the water is where I feel most at peace, grounded, grateful, and alive. So, it’s no wonder that almost every evening I practically skip down Bograshov street to the beach to sit quietly and watch the sunset in awe.
Still reading? Sababa! Here are some FAQs I’ve received so far:
Q: You were already a Manager! Why on earth would you demote yourself to Intern?
A: It took getting a fancy title at a young age to make me realize that I don’t care about titles as much as I thought I did. What gets me excited, career-wise, is doing what I love and using my unique skills to help the company I work for grow. Simple as that.
That being said, I wouldn’t make such an unconventional/risky move if I didn’t believe that interning at a start-up has the potential to catapult me in an exciting new career direction and act as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. The best part of being an intern is the flexibility of the role. It’s a low-risk way to try something new in your career, learn a ton, and make an impact on a company in a short period of time. An internship is what you make of it – you’re there to learn, ask a ton of questions, and contribute as much as you can.
Q: Isn’t Israel a dangerous place? Why would you ever leave Canada?
A: I realize that the security situation in Israel is sensitive right now. There is definitely a fear in the back of my mind of ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time. However, it’s important to remember that the media always sensationalizes things. Now that I’m actually here, I can see that everyday life is normal and locals aren’t paranoid – and I’m following their lead. Ultimately, now was the right time in my life to come here and that’s what I based my decision on.
Tel Aviv sets the perfect stage for me to achieve the goals I outlined above. It’s a young, vibrant, modern, and secular Jewish city. In many ways, it feels separate from the rest of Israel – yet, it’s not. Israel is a very complex place and people say that you can’t possibly have a well-informed opinion on it until you experience actually living here. So, here I am.
Q: What are you going to do after your five-month program is over?
A: I don’t have a clue (and that’s really exciting). Believe me, I’ve already pictured every possible outcome – ranging from ending up in Silicon Valley to never finding a job again and becoming homeless. I have faith that I’ll figure things out along the way and have enough experience and grit to stand out in a tough job market, regardless of whether I immediately return home to Toronto, extend my stay in Israel, or find myself elsewhere abroad. Starting my own business is also a notion that I’ve been entertaining.
Q: Do you see yourself making Aliyah?
A: It’s still too early to tell, but I highly doubt it. As much as I love it here, my family and friends are mostly in North America. However, I can see myself extending my stay in Tel Aviv for 1-2 years (sorry Mom and Dad!).
To sum up, this is truly the boldest thing I have ever done in my life. But so far, it’s also been the most exciting, inspiring, and invigorating. I’m so happy that I made the jump.
Have any other questions for me? Thinking of coming to Israel? I’d love to hear from you! You can also follow my adventures on Instagram.