Class finishes at 12:00 three days a week, which leaves free afternoons the majority of the week for my classmates and I. As Northwestern students, this is unusual and uncomfortable. In Israel, we have a life style without work-study jobs, student groups, sports clubs, and general all-day commitments. Accustomed to settling into our homework around 9pm in Evanston after a full day, we have transitioned into commuting to an internet café in Tel Aviv in the early afternoons to address our upcoming readings. Free time has never been so intimidating. We have an entire country to explore for 10 weeks, and although we do many excursions and travels through class trips, there is still plenty to see in such a short time. Guidebook in hand, the six of us have compiled lists of activities, neighborhoods, but most importantly internet cafes to visit during our stay. These cafes help us settle into the daily flow of cosmopolitan Tel Aviv. Sipping chai lattes on colder days and lemonade during warmer weather, we have taken to seeing the city through the most relaxed spots imaginable. Sometimes we bring roommates along, other times I manage my own solo excursions, always trying out a new neighborhood or street corner, popping open my laptop and sinking into the atmosphere.
In comparison to our busy lives back home, this semester feels more like a vacation than our actual summers. The weather is always sunny and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, our classwork is manageable, and the time we have to travel outside of Tel Aviv is liberal. Getting out of my apartment, even if it is just down the street at the very convenient Betta Café, saves me from evanescent afternoons watching Netflix trapped in my beds – the affliction that seems to hit me when I finally encounter a free afternoon in Evanston. Sitting in a café may seem like a waste of an afternoon when our time in this country is limited, but I think there is something valuable in delving into the culture of a place; absorbing your surrounds, chatting with strangers, and making oneself familiar with the places that you may not be able to visit again. This may sound lazy. Sometimes I think should I be doing more? But there is time for that as well. Weekends spent in Jerusalem experiencing a very different side of Israel have already hit the books, as well as volunteering events, beach days, holiday celebrations, Shabbat dinner with strangers, and school hosted socials and guest speakers. This list is leisurely. The bottom line is, our free time allows us to encounter many sides of Israel and the culture that permeates it, and I am learning to fill my free time with experiences that are helping me get to know a country that I have only read about previously. Every firsthand experience builds upon my understanding, even the ones spent nestled in a cozy café.