By: Taylor Karnilaw
It’s the summer before my senior year of college; I am teaching swim lessons and working with a public defender. My parents come up to me one day and ask me the dreaded question, “SO are you going to start those grad school applications?” Grad school applications? At this point I was completely at a loss, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and thought that going to grad school without a goal in mind would be a complete waste of time. So, I began to look for an alternative solution. Knowing that I liked to travel and enjoyed teaching, teaching abroad was a great option. I then began my TEFL course and in the Fall of 2017 I headed off to teach English in Ashdod, Israel, in an elementary school for ten months, promising my parents that I would return in the fall for grad school.
As I am Jewish, the following ten months were chalk full of a variety of special, meaningful, jarring, thought provoking and joyous experiences.
Of course when I landed, I was completely overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to do anything and by this, I truly mean that I did not know how to do anything. I couldn’t speak the language, had no idea how to work the nonexistent line at the grocery, store and the kids were absolutely wild. There were a lot of things to get accustomed to; one of the most difficult was that the teachers would get into the kids faces and yell “dai!” Hearing that with my American ears, I was horrified. She’s telling them to die? What? Soon I learnt that this meant enough in Hebrew, but still every time I hear it, it sounds a little weird.
Eventually I gained my stride and found myself adjusting to everyday life. I knew how to use the transportation, could communicate basically with the store clerks and began connecting with my students. For the first time in my life I was living in a country where it wasn’t a novelty that I was Jewish. Everyone, the grocery store clerk, the woman sitting next to me on the bus, the crazy motorcycle driver, everyone was Jewish. And even though my Hebrew was terrible, I was apart of the family, a member of the Jewish people. Once people learnt that I was from the United States and came to teach English, they invited me into their homes for Shabbat dinners and gave me places to stay. Never have I felt more like I belonged. I was given the opportunity to learn more about myself, challenge my beliefs, and grew immensely.
I lived with seven other people, which was an experience for sure, as I had never lived with more than one roommate at a time. I did things that I did not even know that I had the capacity to do such as a four day, fifty-mile hike from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean and teaching classrooms full of students who only had basic levels of English and who had gone through a school system with very limited classroom management.
I met my closest friends and found love. I was completely entranced by this warm culture. In the most cliché way I had the time of my life.
In the back of my mind and sometimes in the forefront I had my mother’s words, “So grad school?” and I knew that my greatest chance of learning would not be in school, but in doing what I love, and four months from now, I am going off to Madrid, Spain to teach English at a bilingual high school. I am excited but also unsure. Here I felt that I fit in due to shared religion and culture but struggled with the language. In Spain I will have less of a struggle with the language due to previous experiences with it, but will have less of a personal connection. I am excited to take on Spain as a new challenge. To help another set of kids and to challenge myself to grow in a different way. And then after that, who knows, maybe I’ll go to grad school mom.
But I wouldn’t count on it.
Taylor Karnilaw is 22 from Houston, Texas, with a BA in liberal arts from Soka University of America in 2017. She is an avid lover of books, animals, food, and travel.