As I described in the last post our Israeli “dance card” was far leaner than in England–no neighbors inviting us to dinner; no family members arriving for extended visits; no departmental socials. Given that we would be here for 3+ months we wanted to expand our circle of friends and find playmates for our two young children.
Just like at home friendships are not limited to neighbors and colleagues. Instead, they grow from mutual, shared interests and activities. If you become involved with the local community, in whatever manner you choose, you will meet people and make friends naturally rather than having it be assumed and forced. To this end we attended religious services at a nearby synagogue and met some local congregants and their children. After work we would often head to a nearby community swimming pool, listen for English conversations, and if we heard any would introduce ourselves, especially if it was a family with children. My wife had the name of a distant cousin whom we had never met but contacted, met for coffee, and spent a number of enjoyable evenings. On Saturday afternoons, when little in Jerusalem is open because of the Sabbath, we would go on English-language walking tours and meet fellow walkers, often newcomers to the city like us. This strategy for making friends is no different from what you must do when moving to a new city in the U.S., the only difference being that we had three months, not three years, so we had to move quickly.
In the end we did meet some locals and participate in a few social and cultural events, but nowhere near as many as on our first working vacation in London. However, while locals, colleagues, neighbors, and overseas visitors can be fun (in moderation) it is important to remember that they are not absolutely essential, and you can have an exciting and stimulating short-term working vacation without them. At a minimum you have your spouse and/or children to help fill up the weeks and months with activities and adventures. Instead of a social calendar filled with neighborly dinners and departmental parties, you can occupy your free time with regional travel, family recreation, volunteer opportunities, and cultural immersion.
For example, our family took a local bus to Egypt, snorkeled in the Red Sea, hiked the Galilee, swam in the Mediterranean, spent a weekend at a kibbutz, visited the many religious and cultural sites the country has to offer (at a leisurely pace, I might add), and volunteered to teach English in a local public school. Even without a Rolodex chock-a-block with names we were involved, active, and engaged.
Sometimes there will be scads of locals, friends, and family to fill your free time, as was the case in England and future working vacations in Australia, Turkey, Kenya, and Bhutan. Other times you won’t meet as many people or make as many friends and will, instead, occupy your days with family activities–as in Israel and years later on a working vacation to Mongolia.
However, it really doesn’t matter as both types of working vacations can be thoroughly enjoyable and fully satisfying. Please don’t use “But I don’t know anybody there!” as an excuse for not taking full advantage of a working vacation opportunity.