I was looking to take a vacation (the first in a long time) and I hadn't been to Israel in a while. I had been itching to get back there since my first trip almost seven years ago, so I figured, let's do it!
Why did you choose GoEco?
I chose GoEco because I had heard that it was reputable. I also got to speak to someone who had done the same program before; if that hadn't happened, I'm not sure I would have gone.
What do you love most about Israel?
Israel is wonderful. It's beautiful and full of history, and it's religiously relevant to me as well.
What made your experience abroad unique?
I've never volunteered during a vacation before. I volunteer at home constantly, but who volunteers on vacation?! It's actually great! You get to see parts of the city you may not have gotten to see and meet different people, real people from wherever you're visiting, and you get to talk to them instead of the cafe workers or bus drivers you typically spend a couple of minutes with.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
We didn't see much of our local staff, but they were always on call. They were great with introducing us to the city and to the project, but we really didn't see or hear from them much after that.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
I wish I could have done more at my project or stayed longer, but I had to get back to work!
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
My program was in the afternoon, three days a week. On non-program days, I got to explore Tel Aviv. On program days, I got to explore Tel Aviv in the morning or just relax for bit, and then head out to the program. We got there by bus, so that took a bit. Once at the program, we’d help out as needed. It wasn't difficult and the language barrier only caused minor issues. The beautify of working with this population is that bonds can be formed without words. We played games, did art projects, and had dinner together. Then I'd head back to the hostel we were put up in and I was back to doing whatever I wanted to do.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Tel Aviv has beautiful beaches, a great market that runs everyday, and an artist market that runs once a week. There's the old city of Yafo and a TON of historical sites and museums! I took advantage of all of it (except the beach, I was already quite sunburned).
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
We stayed in a hostel in the heart of Tel Aviv. It runs similar to a hotel and it was a great experience. The staff is wonderful and it was very clean. There was always something fun going on. I stayed there, and at their sister hostel in Jerusalem, even when I wasn't on the project.
What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?
There is really limited staff support, so you're on your own in this (probably) foreign country where you don't speak the language. Staff will take you on the bus there the first time, but you have to get yourself home and then back and forth everyday after. You're also responsible for your free time (which is great, but again, you have to get yourself around). Buses in Israel are great, but can be confusing and the bus drivers tend to only speak Hebrew.
What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?
Using the bus system and not speaking the language fluently was probably the most difficult thing. Google Maps was a lifesaver, but you still need a basic understanding of Hebrew to manage.
Overall, how difficult was it to communicate with locals?
A lot of Israelis speak English, except in Tel Aviv (national pride is strong there), but it's still easy enough to communicate. Except with bus drivers, who tend to only speak Hebrew.
What surprised you most about Israel?
This wasn't my first time there, so I wasn't really surprised by anything. On my first trip, I remember being surprised by how everything is uphill in both directions. I'm not joking, bring a great pair of sneakers with you!
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Israel?
Hmmm...sneakers and socks. Everything is made of stone (slippery stone at that), so falling happens, but sneakers help prevent that (a little). Also, water shoes for the Dead Sea or your feet will get cut up. Sunglasses and sunscreen are must haves. And a good hat!
What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?
It's a great way to see a country and to meet real people from there. Traveling to the site everyday let me see different parts of the country I may have not seen. Then I got to spend time, actual time, with people who live and work in Israel.
Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?
I work with this population at home so it wasn't some big shock to the system, but it made my vacation more valuable and I'm likely to do it again. I just had a wonderful vacation (one that I needed) and I had a tan in April/May!
Would you recommend GoEco and your program to others? Why?
I would recommend both. I had a good time and a good experience. I'm likely to do this program again, and other programs with GoEco, so I definitely recommend this program and GoEco.
If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?
I'd love to go to Africa or India!
Rachel is from New York, where she is a social worker who works with people with developmental disabilities every day. She loves to travel, but does not do it often enough. Rachel considers her camera as part of her, and she loves to share her work. She also loves volunteering on a regular basis and sees it as important to personal development and growth.