Sunday, June 12, 2011


I'm leaving this country in three short days, so I thought I'd share some simple reflections.  For the past week or so I was really excited to go home and see everyone that I miss, but then last night as I was coming back in a five hour car ride from Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), I felt a pang of sadness about leaving.  The other students here are extremely thoughtful, articulate people who have seen a lot in their young lives.  I don't know when I'll have the chance to see many of them again, if ever.

Well, here are two lists about where I am and where I'm going:

I will miss...
  • the friends I've made (who are very different from me)
  • hiking in a desert "backyard"
  • copious sunlight and lack of humidity
  • free time
  • hitchhiking
  • falafel, fool, hummus, pita
  • Jewish holidays
  • field trips
  • religious and political discussions

I am looking forward to...
  • public transportation and trains
  • rain
  • American work ethic and punctuality
  • less secondhand smoke
  • no more border crossings or checkpoints or strip searches
  • pork (and Chinese food)
  • Christian community
  • catching up with family and friends

Mind you, I still think I'll get reverse culture shock.  Probably when I see Woodfield Mall and the surrounding area :P

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Birthday Committee

So today is my birthday :)

The past semester, I've been a part of the birthday committee on campus.  It's pretty simple - a few of us make a birthday card for people to sign and cook up some sort of nice treat whenever it's someone's birthday.  Usually David and I end up doing the baking, and since he's vegan (and there are ~4 other vegan students), we make a vegan cake.  For some reason this term puts people at unease ("A cake without eggs or butter!?") but I have to say we've made some pretty delicious cakes anyway.  We always joke that the birthday committee is for people who like to cook but don't want to spend their own money...which is true in my case :P

Last night, we celebrated all the June birthdays at once because there are seven of us June babies (out of 40 students).  David and I baked three kinds of cake - chocolate pistachio, cinnamon fruit, and chocolate pudding cake.  Fun stuff - we even made the pudding ourselves!  It was our last birthday bash and I'm glad I've had the chance to make everyone's birthday a little sweeter.

And I've been slacking on the prayer part:
Request - I'm headed home a week from today and I have so much to do in between now and then...
Praise - I'm so thankful for 21 awesome, blessed years of life.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Return to Timna

Today I returned to Timna Park for an Earth Science field trip.  This time, I got to see some new areas of the park which I didn't get to the last time:

The Arches
Exploring ancient copper mining tunnels
Very out-of-place artificial lake formed after recent mining endeavors
I have to say, I wasn't expecting much from a geology class, but it turned out to be a pretty awesome class (rocks are not as boring as I thought).  I even chose to do my final project on rock climbing :)

My clip in this video (of Oliners studying abroad) is from my last visit to Timna Park:
The video turned out really well and I can't wait to see Olin '12 again in the fall!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Politics, Activism, and....Reptiles!

I returned from a hectic week and a half on Thursday night.  I ended up not going to the alumni gathering because I missed everyone on the kibbutz (and actually had some work to do).  My time away was split up into three parts:

1. PELS (Peace-building and Environmental Leadership Seminar) trip
  • PELS is a weekly seminar for all the students comprised of discussions, guest speakers, and workshops.  We've covered everything from the Holocaust to "compassionate listening" to an-Nakba - the aim is to move towards peace by engaging the diverse group of students here.
  • I don't really know how to describe the trip - there were many ups and downs.  One moment we'd be hearing from residents of Sderot, an Israeli town that is the target of rockets from Gaza, and where every building has a shelter. Then we'd be spending time with Palestinian families in Susiya in the West Bank, where Israeli settlers constantly encroach on their lands.  I've had more than enough interactions with the IDF (Israeli army).  We heard from Benny Begin (right-wing Israeli politician) and immediately after from Christopher Gunness (UN Relief and Works Agency).
We climbed up to a little indent in the rock during the initial hike

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


The one thing I regret not bringing here: safety glasses.  Of course, I had to get involved in an engineering-related project here which requires machining.  Except there's no machine shop, and the only safety goggles available are so scratched up that it would be more unsafe to use them.  Today I cut wood boards with a jigsaw while wearing swimming goggles.  It must have been quite a sight...don't worry, I still have both eyes.  Oh, how I long for the luxuries of the Olin machine shop.

P.S. Tomorrow I'm leaving the kibbutz for 11 days to go on the PELS (Peace-building and Environmental Leadership) trip, stop by an activism festival, collect reptiles on the second Biodiversity trip, and attend an alumni conference of the institute in Jerusalem.  See you on the flip side!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Trip of Mishaps

Okay, so I'm really behind on posting about my travels.  But I wanted to write a post about a weekend trip to Jordan back in the beginning of April.  Six of us crossed the border at Aqaba and took a bus up to Amman, where Yara, a Jordanian student, lives.  We explored the city for a day and stayed with Yara's family.  Hashim, another Jordanian student (from Irbid), then joined us as we headed to the Dead Sea and back to Aqaba.  We slept on the beach of the Red Sea before crossing back into Israel the next day.  Sounds great, right?  Well, it wasn't that simple...

I'll start with the not-so-highlights:
  • waiting on a stationary bus for two hours to leave
  • getting dropped off at a random gas station because the bus driver lied to us about his destination
The beguiling bus
  • pleading to use the showers at the Dead Sea
  • cutting the soles of my feet on the sharp salt
  • waking up on a beach littered with trash and realizing that the nice groomed beach was only 50 m away
  • coming across a butt naked man in the women's bathroom (to his credit, he was very kind and apologetic)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Deficiencies of the English language

Now that I've spent three months in foreign countries, I've come across many flaws in this strange tongue we call English.  (I'm often asked to read over papers and emails written by fellow students who are non-native English speakers. This is mainly how I've become distinctly aware of these flaws which have tripped up many an ESL student, I'm sure.)

1. Silent letters, and letter combinations which imply a different pronunciation
  • Example: psammophile (which is a sand-loving organism), pronounced "sammofile."  The first p is silent, but then the second p before an h makes the f sound.  It's a wonder how we keep track of such inconsistencies.
Picture for fun - here, I am a psammophile :D
(I was sandboarding in Wadi Rum...)

2. Irregular verbs
  • Example: The verb "be," which has the forms am, are, is, was, were, being, and been. A few too many, don't you think?
3. Homonyms
  • Example: My roommate and I were asked how old we were.  My roommate said "I'm 20."  I said, "I'm 20, too."  Which sounded like "I'm 22." :P

I could go on, but I'll stop here before I lose any more of you.  This is not to say that other languages are much better, for instance, I am glad that English has an alphabet.  And I do have to give it credit for not having masculine and feminine forms of everything (as in Hebrew and Arabic).  Maybe these flaws are really just the foibles which make English what it is - of course, nothing's perfect.

In any case, it's refreshing to see things from the other side.  I do wish I knew other languages better, especially since everyone here seems to know at least three.  But I've realized how fortunate I am to know the language which has (for better or worse) become the international standard.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Crazy critters

Hello!  Sorry for the lack of posting.  Last week I was on Passover break and as soon as I was back on campus, I've been out on the Biodiversity of Sand Dunes field trip.  The class has only met once a week for an hour up to this point, and now we've been waking up at 4:30 am to get out to the dunes and collect all the creatures from our traps.  The goal of the trip is to assess the biodiversity of the animals living on the Samar dunes.  Yesterday was particularly successful for my group - in our traps we caught two baby gerbils, one scorpion, one solifuge, some beetles, some spiders, some ants, and a lizard!  And another group caught a skink - I would have never expected all this life in the dunes, which look so sparse and empty.  You just have to know where and how to look :)

Pitfall trap star - at each corner and in the center,
there is a bucket dug into the sand.
Creatures run into the fences, then walk along them until they fall
into the buckets at the ends - simple yet highly effective.

Unhappy lizard

Two solifuges on either side of a scorpion

Skink after it detached part of its tail (defense mechanism)
 - pretty ridiculous when that happened

One of the gerbils snacking on Bamba (popular Israeli peanut butter snack)
Stay tuned for more posts on my travels in the past month.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Power Outage

Today the power was out for most of the day on the kibbutz.  No surprises - it was announced beforehand since it was scheduled work on the new solar field.  If this happened at Olin, I'm not sure what we would do.  I remember when the internet failed one night during the Winter Olympics last year, and everyone showed up in the lounges to watch the games.  But here, life went on as usual and I hardly noticed the lack of electricity.  I helped put up a tarp over part of the horse pen to give them some more shade, worked on my independent study project a little bit, swam in the pool, and fixed up a couple solar cookers:

Go sun!

By nightfall, the power was back so the soccer field lights could be turned on for a great game of Ultimate.  Contentment.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Water trip

Well, since I'm already behind on posting, I'll post in reverse chronological order such that my blog will be in chronological order (for a few posts anyway).

This past Monday, all the students, interns and a few of the staff of the Arava Institute departed for our first semester trip - about 50 people total.  We're all required to take the class "Water Management in the Middle East," and this was the three-day class field trip.  The class is about water scarcity in the region and how the resources of the Jordan River basin can be shared amongst Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.  Very relevant and pretty eye-opening, at least for me.  The trip took us through the Dead Sea, a village near Jericho, Jesus' supposed baptism site, East Jerusalem, and the sprawl south of Tel Aviv.  While I enjoyed visiting each one of these places, the great irony of the trip was the perpetual rain (water scarcity, what water scarcity??).  Here's a limerick in honor of my friend Lexi, which basically sums up what happened:

From many a rain cloud we fled
But we never could get ahead
Of the constant drizzle
Our spirits did fizzle
And the mosquitoes ate us in bed

The rain meant that we didn't go on either of the planned hikes during the trip, which left me in a sour mood since we were confined to the bus all the time.  And the first night my face got eaten up by mosquitoes :P

On the plus side, we witnessed some rare waterfalls next to the Dead Sea!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Good Day Sunshine

Today was excellent.  I'm so glad I returned to the south instead of staying in Tel Aviv this weekend.  A fellow student (David) and I decided to hike in Timna Park today.  I wasn't expecting much - I really just wanted to get outside and exercise after three days of rain and sitting on a bus.  We had an early breakfast and planned on hitchhiking to Timna, which is 20 minutes south of Ketura.  Opportunely, our bus driver from the last three days was headed in the same direction.  He dropped us off at the main road entrance to the park and we started walking towards the gate.  After a little while, we realized that the gate was pretty far (~3 km), but no problem - we stuck out our fingers and two guys picked us up.  At the gate we hopped out of the car and approached the admission window.  Right away, the park ranger warned us that we would need a car to get around the "large" park.  "No way, we want to hike."  After a hesitant look, the ranger handed us a trail map and said that we'd only have to pay half the admission fee (~$3.50 each) since we weren't driving in.  Win.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Travel, travel, travel

Sorry I've been so quiet on the blog front.  In the past couple weeks, I've traveled to Jerusalem, Jordan, and I just got back from our first semester trip (with all the students).  Look out for some posts on these adventures soon!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy Spring

So it's March 21st, the "official" first day of spring.  Except that it feels like summer here already.  Because it gets so hot in the actual summer, late winter/early spring is the start of the first growing season.  In my Organic Food Production class, we've each adopted our own vegetable to grow during the semester, and I chose popcorn.

Popcorn!  Sprouts showed up just in time for spring.

My popcorn has sprouted already after we planted 10 days ago - woohoo!  The pipes in the picture are part of the drip irrigation system.  Drip irrigation was actually developed in Israel, and is an essential part of agriculture in this region.  There are small holes spaced evenly along the line, and only the necessary amount of water is emitted.  The water used for the plants is pretty saline (groundwater from the area), so we made sure to grow hardy plants that are appropriate for this environment.  I'll let you know how my popcorn turns out!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Haircut, Soccer, Lent

It was just what I was looking for - a fellow student (Yedidya) emailed out an offer for haircuts. The email came right when I was thinking to ask if anyone could cut my hair - it was much too long for the increasingly hot weather here. Yedidya mentioned that he didn't have much experience with cutting girls' hair, but I didn't really care. It would be a learning experience for both of us. I'd had the same hairstyle for about a decade, so I was up for something new.

Friday, March 11, 2011


Today I successfully hitchhiked for the first time! Hitchhiking is much more common here - which makes it much easier to get a ride. Instead of sticking out your thumb, you point your index finger out. A nice guy named Mail (Male? Mayel?) picked up four of us students heading to Eilat. So we saved money by not taking the bus, and got to meet someone new :)

P.S. The Red Sea is super salty!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Life on a kibbutz

Now that I've been here for a couple weeks, I just thought I'd share more about where I am.  No, I'm not in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv - the closest city is Eilat, which is mainly a resort city on the Red Sea at the southernmost tip of Israel.  Even Eilat is 50 km away, which makes this kibbutz quite the bubble - but a pretty sweet bubble nonetheless.  I'll let the pictures do the talking:

"Quad" between dorm buildings - I'm in the closest unit on the right (yay mountains!).  If you hang out on the grass for a little while, a stray kitten will come and curl up in your lap.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Last night, a fellow student (an Israeli friend who knows that I'm a Christian) asked if I pray before I eat.  We had just started eating dinner, and nope, I hadn't prayed.  I'm not really in the habit of praying before meals, but what a great reminder this was.  Food is just one thing I have to be thankful for, among so many others.

Monday, February 28, 2011


Classes just started yesterday (they go from Sunday through Thursday) and during the four days prior, we had orientation.  Being here reminds me of when I first arrived at Olin - new faces, fun camaraderie, group activities. My favorites are the hikes - I'm used to hiking in forests and at high elevations, but definitely not the barren desert.  No trees for shade, no grass or dirt to break a fall.  Just rocks, sand, and the occasional shrub.

Just another winter afternoon here

Taking a break in the shade of a valley

P.S. I don't take a whole lot of pictures, especially when the people with me have much nicer cameras and take many more pictures. I'll try to include some of those photos (here are some taken by Josh, one of the Program Associates).  Besides, a camera can't capture so much of what I see here.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I'm in Israel!

So I didn't really introduce my blog in the first post, so I'll do so here. I am currently studying abroad at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which is in the Arava valley of southern Israel. Before arriving in Israel, I spent about a week and a half in Europe (see my previous post and Steven's blog). I flew into Tel Aviv from London on Monday night and met up with fellow students to board the bus to the institute. On the way, we went through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dead Sea area. The first thing that struck me was the astounding variety in terrain/landscape going from central to southern Israel - green and hilly to dry and hot. This country is roughly the size of New Jersey, but incredibly diverse.

I didn't know all that much about the Arava Institute (besides what's on the website) before arriving, but now I'm getting a pretty good idea of the place I'll call home for the next four months. The institute is located on Kibbutz Ketura, so we share facilities with 400 other inhabitants of the kibbutz.

View of Kibbutz Ketura from the base of an electrical tower we hiked up to.  The mountains in the distance are in Jordan.

There are ~40 students here from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, the U.S., and Canada. Some have never been in college, while others have graduate degrees. I've met three people who have heard of Olin (small world), one of whom read about Olin in an article - the word is getting out!

So far we've been participating in lots of orientation activities, which I can elaborate on later.  As for the title of this blog, the fact that I'm in the desert should be pretty clear by now, and I also hope to include prayer (requests, praises) in my posts.  "This is my prayer in the desert" comes straight from Hillsong's Desert Song.

Praise: This place is really awesome - unlike anywhere I've ever been.  The bright sun doesn't hurt either :)
Request: Finding a Christian community in this sparsely populated area. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Steven: "You've seen more of Paris than I have"

So before I head to the desert in southern Israel, I'm visiting Steven (Olin) and Grace (Wheaton) in Paris. And I think Steven's right - I've seen so much of Paris in the last week it's ridiculous.
I won't bore you with minute details about the Louvre, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, and Versailles (pictures here and here). But I will mention my trip to the Eiffel Tower as a candidate for Steven's strangest/most interesting thing competition. Now, the tower itself is well-known and an awesome feat of engineering, but can hardly be called strange. Put an ice skating rink in the first level up, though, and now we have a contender! I almost didn't believe it when I read about it online, but it's true - there's a small rink with real ice and great views.

The other especially noteworthy experience I've had - being the target of pickpockets. My first time as a target was relatively tame - an acquaintance walking next to me noticed the potential thief before she could even touch my bag. But my second time was quite an encounter.

I stepped on to the train as usual with Grace but as soon as I was in, someone pushed me forward roughly. I was surprised because the train was not crowded at all. I thought, "There's room for everybody, don't push me!" Then things took a turn for the worse. I got shoved to the side even more aggressively than before. I was able to hold on to the center pole, otherwise I would have fallen. That's when I noticed that my bag was open and the lady next to me had a coat over her arm. I quickly checked my bag, noticed that my wallet was missing, and swiftly slapped the lady's arm. Out came my wallet from under her coat! She had even managed to unzipper my wallet and a couple coins fell out. Good thing I was wearing my money belt. I reached down to pick everything up and the lady had the nerve to try to "help" me pick up the coins. I didn't give her that chance and as soon as I had my things, I fast walked to a seat farther away. I glared at her until the train got to the next stop, where she left with her daughter.

Later, Grace told me that this mother-daughter team had also tried to get into her bag, but were unsuccessful. This all happened in the span of 20 seconds and at first I just felt overwhelmed, but then I got angry. Who would teach/recruit their daughter to do such things? Who would stoop to such low behavior? Did they really think I wouldn't notice during the time the train took to get to the next stop? I miss the Honor Code.

I guess I don't blend in well enough - I'd say I look like an American engineering student and my clothes pale in comparison to standard Paris fashion. Paris: you are an amazing city with jaw dropping sights but I will be glad to double-cheek-kiss your theives goodbye. Au revoir!