In 2017, I spent five weeks traveling in Israel with 60 of my peers through a program for teens. Over the course of that summer, I fell in love with the country as I was guided through it by my counselors and staff members.
One night, I was sitting in the hall outside of my hotel room when our group’s Israeli security guard, who many of us befriended, approached me. Out of uniform and unarmed, he sat down next to me and asked, completely out of the blue, where I saw myself in the next few years.
As a 16 year old with no concrete plans for my future, I was taken aback. I told him I wanted to go to college, have a career and a family. It was the future I always knew I would have—the future I was supposed to have.
“Doesn’t it get boring?” he asked me.
“What do you mean?”
“You Americans,” he said. “You have your lives planned out by someone else before you’re even 16. I don’t understand it. Don’t you wish you could give it up? Travel the world? Live here for a while?”
It’s been four years since our conversation and I still think about his words all the time.
During those five weeks, I experienced another culture, an amazing culture, that is so different from life in the U.S. Everyone is so relaxed and no one seems to care about what’s coming next. There’s no pressure to go to college and have a successful career. Life in Israel is just about appreciating the little things and finding happiness in anything and everything.
On the countless days where I feel overwhelmed by exams and internship applications, I hear the security guard’s voice in the back of my mind, urging me to stop caring so much. It’s moments like those when I wish I could just drop out of college and live like an Israeli, happy and carefree.
As Americans, specifically American college students, our lives are nonstop. We go through life like it’s a race, constantly trying to get ahead and be the most successful. From the moment we start high school, every stage of life requires thinking about what’s coming next.
There’s a saying that someone shared with me while I was in Israel: “Americans live to work, Israelis work to live.” In other words, the American lifestyle revolves around our jobs. We dedicate our existence to working and earning money.
Israelis, on the other hand, work to enjoy all of the other things in life. Once the Israeli work day is over, their only focus is family, friends and hobbies.
This past summer, I returned to Israel where I lived and worked for two months. Again, I was shocked at how different the Israeli lifestyle is. I experienced the “work to live” lifestyle firsthand and gained such an appreciation for that way of life.
Ever since returning to Lehigh in August, I’ve seen my peers living to work more than ever. It seems like everyone is already racing to finalize their internships for next summer—not a day goes by where someone I know isn’t stressed about their next paper or interview.
When this is the environment you’re brought up in and constantly surrounded by, it can be hard to not get caught up in it. But, if there’s anything I’ve learned from my experience in Israel, it’s that sometimes we just need to take a step back.
It might not make sense for me to abandon all that I’ve worked toward and instead move across the country, but it is important to remember what really matters in life. It’s not the grades I get or the job I have. It’s not how much I’ll make one day or how big my house will be. It’s the experiences I have, the people I meet and the things I learn.
I’m going to fail exams. I’m going to face rejection. I’m going to worry about my future and feel pressure to compete with everyone else. I may not be able to change American culture, but I can use what I’ve learned from my time in Israel to help myself and those around me.
So, to answer the security guard’s initial question, no. I don’t wish I could give it all up. I love college and all that it’s given me, and I’m looking forward to my future. But, I will always carry his words with me and remember to slow down, relax, work less and live more.