Israel - #BIMdannmalinTelAviv
Podcast #BIM dann mal weg
This episode is not about a semester abroad, as is usually the case, but Antonia's guest Bella gives us exciting reports on her experiences from Tel Aviv, Israel, where Bella completed an internship abroad. This episode has nothing to do with a partner university, but Bella makes a (mandatory) internship abroad palatable to us. She talks about her experience as an intern at a startup in Israel, delving into Israel's startup culture as well as the strong contrasts to the German mentality. In addition to food tips and great places to visit in the city, Bella also talks about her unforgettable Christmas in Bethlehem. Despite the slightly higher prices, Tel Aviv is bursting with life and has captivated Bella. Listen in and let Tel Aviv inspire you.
Moderated by Antonia Joos
Produced by Antonia Joos and Sonja Zügner in cooperation with the economics student body of FHWS
Sound and editing by Sonja Zügner
Bella: Hello everyone.
Antonia: Today's episode is a little bit different. Bella was also on a semester abroad but today we're talking about Bella's internship abroad. Would you like to introduce yourself and tell us where you were.
Bella: I'm Isabella, or Bella, I'm 21 years old and I'm studying BIM in my 6th semester and for my mandatory internship I went to Israel and did an internship at a startup in Tel Aviv.
Antonia: Cool. I already knew that, but how did you come up with the country, the city?
Bella: I've been to Israel before, shortly after graduating from high school, and I really liked it there because I was there on a German Israeli exchange, and I told myself then that I definitely wanted to go there again for a longer time. I also wanted to make the experience of working abroad. Corona was very present in Germany at that time and therefore I took this chance and did my internship abroad, in Israel. I did that with a German Israeli program that was specifically related to Tel Aviv.
Antonia: How did you find the program? Or how did you become aware of it?
Bella: I just googled it. I knew I wanted to go there, so I searched a bit on the Internet and found this program. There aren't many of these German Israeli exchange programs, so I quickly came across the "New Kibbutz" program. This is for German students who want to get to know the startup culture in Israel or Tel Aviv by doing internships there for several months.
Antonia: And you also found the company through this program? Did you choose a company by yourself, or did they suggest one to you?
Bella: Well, you apply through the New Kibbutz Program, which runs through the AHK, the Foreign Chamber of Commerce in Israel, and they are in contact with a startup pool. There you can choose different startups and indicate which are your favorites. Then you have an interview with them. I was lucky because I got the company I was aiming for.
Antonia: So you sort of register once with the program and then again separately with the startups for the application.
Bella: Exactly. So the AHK is kind of the intermediary.
Antonia: What kind of company were you with? Or startup.
Bella: I was at Placesense. Placesense is an Israeli startup but about a third of our team is also in Germany . What Placesense does is: Location analysis of cities in Central Europe. This location analysis is generated with data from anonymized GPS data that Placesense collects from smartphone apps. The whole thing is of course privacy compliant and as I said is an Israeli startup, but operates in Central Europe, especially of course in Germany. It was founded in 2018 and I think it has 24 employees now and I was there as an intern in marketing.
Antonia: Cool, you're already taking the questions out of my mouth. What did you do there? Okay, marketing. And what exactly were the projects or tasks you had there?
Bella: The tasks in a startup are always very diverse, so I was busy in marketing but also with sales, among other things. My central tasks were to represent Placesense at trade fairs or events or to help organize the appearances. Then we also planned a webinar over several weeks and were able to implement this very successfully and we also created an ABM Campagne, together with another intern.
Antonia: That definitely sounds very exciting. Did you have fixed working hours, for example when you performed at trade fairs, was it more of a 9-5 job?
Bella: It was already a 9-5 job, from Sunday to Thursday, because that's how you work in Israel, which was also an adjustment for me at first, that I have to work on Sundays. But I was also in Munich with Placesense at the Expo, for example, which is one of the biggest real estate fairs, and then it was just working for three days straight.
Antonia: All right. Exciting in any case. How did you get along with your team? Did you work in groups or did everyone have their own tasks? You said 24 employees, right?
Bella: Exactly, now there are 24, but when I was with the company, we were 20 employees and there were also two or three other interns, with whom I of course also worked together very closely. For example, I created the ABM Campagne alone with one of the other interns. The team cohesion itself was very good, it was a very familiar team. As interns, we were very well received in the company and in the team and felt very comfortable. Our colleagues also helped us a lot on site in Israel, for example with translations or phone calls where we didn't get anywhere. That was really nice. Our boss also often took us on excursions and invited us to his house at the end of the internship. So all in all, it was a very nice team spirit.
Antonia: That sounds great. Was it generally a younger team or more mixed?
Bella: A younger team is typical for startups, but that wasn't really the case in this company, so the two founders were already a bit older, and had already founded before, I think they were both in their mid-40s. And the rest of the team was also rather older, I would say we interns lowered the average age. It was more of an older startup and the startup itself was already 3 or 4 years old.
Antonia: Then it was certainly a very pleasant atmosphere, if it was a bit mixed. Now a bit away from the internship and more about the country, about Israel. What kind of experiences did you have with the language and the culture there?
Bella: Well, Hebrew is spoken in Israel and Hebrew is a very complicated and different language and in the three and a half months I was there, it was almost impossible to learn this language, especially because you don't really need it in Tel Aviv, because it's a very international city and especially in the startup scene everyone speaks fluent English, because almost all startups work closely with the American or European market. However, I organized a tandem partner who then taught me a bit of Hebrew every now and then and I actually ended up knowing a few words, but of course it's very difficult to really understand anything there after such a short time. As for the culture, Israel is predominantly Jewish and that is of course very different from us, it already starts there that every weekend is Sabbath. Sabbath begins on Friday noon and ends on Saturday evening and during this time the country is silent. It's all closed, there's no more public transportation, so you really can't get anywhere, which is really stupid if you want to travel over the weekend. That time is just to go home, spend time with family and to get down and calm down, which was a relatively big cultural difference for me.
Antonia: I understand. To go more into the culture, how was the food and the mentality there?
Bella: The food was really good, I miss that a lot.
Antonia: What is the food there like?
Bella: It's Arabic cuisine, so there's a lot of hummus and falafel and also a lot of pita bread but also a lot of vegetables, which are prepared very tasty. In Israel, many different cultures come together because it is a country of immigration and therefore you can find every cuisine. For example, I ate a lot of Yemeni food, a cuisine I didn't know at all before. It was very meaty, but it was a great experience to try out the different cuisines and although there was a lot of hummus in the end, and I can't really see any hummus anymore now The Israeli cuisine was really delicious. I can only recommend everyone to go to an Israeli restaurant.
Antonia: I'm also really into the food. My uncle comes from there, so I'm also familiar with the food and can only recommend it from my side. My roommate too, he's probably standing at the door listening to us right now. He often cooks Israeli food and I always enjoy eating it.
Bella: I can absolutely recommend you a Shawarma and also a Sabich, that's very good take-away food and very tasty.
Antonia: Both sound good. I can't really think of one, unfortunately, although I may have eaten it before.
Bella: A Shawarma, is a bit similar to a kebab, with chicken meat. And a sabich is a pita bread with a lot of vegetables, grilled eggplant and egg, and of course with hummus or tahini.
Antonia: That sounds great. Okay, away from the food before we get stuck here. So what was the mentality of the people there, what are they like, how did that work? Or how did it differ from our mentality here. I don't want to lump us all together here, but you know what I mean.
Bella: I can understand that. Israelis are actually very different. Israelis have little structure, especially when it comes to the work mentality, which is one of the biggest differences to Germany and to our way of thinking and working. Israelis just doing it. That's what they say about themselves, they don't have much structure, but they have this "just do it" approach, which can be very helpful when founding or working in a startup because you can get results really quickly. We do it that way now, and don't think about it for long. But then I also noticed over time that problems can also come along with this way of working and that not everything always works out, for example if you put a lot of work into a project and then realize that it doesn't really work well and you eventually have to cancel the whole project. But I find that very exciting, because that mentality can also lead to achieving a lot in a short time. I started at Placesense, and there wasn't even a real product yet, just the business idea.
Antonia: And they had already hired so many people?
Bella: Exactly, they already had so many people because the service was sold with other tools.
Antonia: Ah ok so there was already revenue?
Bella: Yes exactly, there was just no company product yet. The product was then launched at some point and when I left Placesense after 5 months, the third version was already launched, so they really came a long way within 5 months.
Antonia: I can well imagine that this mentality, this "just do it" approach that you just described It can of course also backfire, but it can certainly also be very innovative if you have an idea and get started right away.
Bella: Exactly, you don't let bureaucratic hurdles stop you.
Antonia: I know that from many people here, they have an idea but then they are unsure and don't dare trying it, they are in their comfort zone and don't want to get out of it and what you just described is rather "I have an idea, let's try it out right away".
Bella: Yes, in Israel every idea is implemented directly, and a company is immediately created from it, which surprisingly works out relatively well in most cases. And that's why there's such a strong startup scene there, the Silicon Valley of the Middle East, so to speak.
Antonia: That sounds cool. So if anyone is listening here who wants to start a startup, it's best to do it in Israel. I think when you're surrounded by other startups, you also support each other and the general atmosphere is very innovative among the startups, I imagine that's very cool.
Bella: We were there in a "We work tower", which I'm sure some people know from Germany but that was a bit more blatant in Israel. In Tel Aviv there is a big tower where hundreds of startups have rented offices. That's also very cool, because you quickly meet different startups, for example during your lunch break.
Antonia: At this point, briefly for those who do not know it. We also have something like this up at Hubland, it is called the "Cube". It's a creative workshop where startups can work out their first ideas and plans, and then there's also a startup center where startups can rent office space. So if someone with a startup idea is actually listening here, then maybe first try to start your startup on Hubland and then later in Israel. Perfect, go on, what were your expectations for your internship abroad. Or did you have high expectations or were they more like fears?
Bella: They were fears, let's put it that way. It had been clear for a long time that I was going to Israel, since I already had the internship and the scholarship to support it, but it was difficult because the borders were closed for a long time, since Israel had very strict regulations in connection with the pandemic. They simply didn't open the borders, and even though you had a work contract, you couldn't enter the country. This was very difficult and at the time also led to me spending the first 6 weeks of my internship in the home office from Germany. I was really afraid that it would stay like this and that I would have to work from home or from Germany for the whole 5 months. But fortunately, it didn't turn out that way and I was able to enter the country in November. The government had opened the borders for a short period, and I entered directly.
Antonia: Scurried through.
Bella: Unfortunately, they closed the borders again right after that, because Omicron came, which hit Israel pretty hard. So that was one of my biggest fears in connection with my internship abroad. And then the fun continued because after 3 months you needed a visa extension where again there were really strong measures, and it was not clear if we would get this extension. A few of us actually didn't get it, which went so far that a friend of mine had to fly to Vienna for a weekend to re-enter Israel because he unfortunately didn't get the extension on the spot. That is Israeli bureaucracy, to which Israelis also say that it is a challenge every time, and so it was for us interns.
Antonia: What was it like before entering Israel? Had you applied for the visa in advance or how was that?
Bella: No, we didn't apply in advance, we had to justify ourselves at the border and present our documents and then we got the visa.
Antonia: For 3 months then. For the visa extension it's probably a normal application, right?
Bella: Exactly, you have to go to a local authority and present different documents, so we had an employment contract, a document from AHK Israel and from the German Embassy. It is also important that these documents are in Hebrew, because at the authorities many people don't speak English. Basically, you can say that you have relatively few problems with a German passport to get an extension. Fortunately, it worked directly for me.
Antonia: You were lucky. How did the planning of your internship abroad go? You've already told us about this program, but what was the time frame? When did you look at the program? When did you apply? How long did it actually take until you got the internship?
Bella: I think I applied 5-6 months in advance at the AHK and therefore also at the startup and I would also recommend all those who are interested in something like this to apply at least 6 months in advance, because the program is becoming more and more popular and then there was even an application stop at some point, where really no more applications were accepted because everything was full. I received the acceptance letter about a month later and started to organize everything on my own.
Antonia: Okay, that's good to know. And did you plan everything else yourself? The program was only for the internship, or did they also take care of other things?
Bella: Exactly, but what was also cool was that the program also offered excursions, for which you don't have the chance as a normal tourist. For example, we were in the north at the Sea of Galilee, we were in a kibbutz, of which there are not so many in Israel and you don't really get in as an outsider, but we got a guided tour and could look at the kibbutz. Another time we were in a tech museum where the latest trends are exhibited, which was also really cool. When you are actually traveling with such a program, you always have contact persons and also the chance for such excursions, you get insights that you normally wouldn't get.
Antonia: It's not so bad to have contact persons on site. I mean, if you do a normal semester abroad, you always have local contacts from the university anyway. But during an internship abroad, it's not so bad to have some contact persons onsite if something comes up.
Bella: Definitely. And especially because the language barrier is so big. As I mentioned earlier, many people in Tel Aviv speak English, but some don't and then you really don't get anywhere with English and then it's handy if you have people who know the language.
Antonia: Yes, I think so. What kind of friends did you have there? Were there also friends who knew the language, or were they mainly internationals, or mainly Germans?
Bella: Because we all did it with a program, we were in a network from the beginning, which is why most of my friends there were students from Germany, so you are very much among your peers, with people who all want to discover the country and want to do a lot of things, which also binds together very much when everyone has the same experiences and goes through the same problems, for example, you can't find an apartment or difficulties at work or something similar. I had already done an exchange to Israel a few years ago, so I still knew a few people there with whom the contact has actually kept. That was very nice and through that I also had contact with a few locals.
Antonia: That was an intermediate question, because I actually wanted to go further into the planning of your internship abroad. Namely, how did it work out with the crediting, because we, all the others, I say, you were certainly one of the only ones who did an internship abroad, with us it was roughly just submitting the internship report in German and a few other documents for the crediting of the internship, was that different for you?
Bella: Yes, it was actually the same for me. I wrote my internship report in English, since the language in my startup was also English, and then I sent it to my boss in Israel for signature and he filled out some other documents and sent them back to me. I then sent that to the UAS, and it was also approved relatively quickly. The company was pre-approved anyway, before I started the internship. One of the few conditions there is that the company where you do your internship, must have more than I think 6 employees.
Antonia: relaxed. That all sounds very easy. Did anything go wrong? In general, in the internship or in your life there?
Bella: Well, the entry was quite a procedure, as I mentioned earlier. But even that worked out in the end. And on site, the visa extension was also a bit of a headache, but it worked out in the end. Otherwise, everything went really well, I was really lucky. I lived there in several apartments, because unfortunately I didn't get an apartment for a full 3 months, but that was actually quite cool, because I could get to know more of the city and also more people. The apartments were a bit shabby from time to time but you just have to get used to that because that is more or less the standard in Israel, especially in Tel Aviv, because there is no money put into the renovation of the houses and you just have to accept that in the winter when it rains a lot it will rain in because the windows are leaking. That happened with me but also with some of my friends, that's just part of it.
Antonia: You have to say, we are sitting here in my room and it is raining outside and we are very happy that the windows are tight. How did you find the apartments, did you use apps?
Bella: No, everything there is actually done via Facebook, and it's all super spontaneous. At the time, I contacted a few people from Germany to say that I would be flying to Tel Aviv in the coming week and would be interested in the apartment. And then most of the time they replied with: "yes, you can come over tonight and move in tomorrow," so everything was very ad hoc. I really found my first apartment through Facebook and then got the next one through my roommates.
Antonia: There we are again with this mentality. "Just come by and then you can move right in".
Bella: Yes, exactly, just do it. There's no long talk, it's just done.
Antonia: Super relaxed. Now I have a few more open questions. The first would be: financial: living, food, going out to eat, going to parties, entry, flight, how does it look there?
Bella: Israel is very expensive, everyone who wants to go there must be aware of that. The flights are relatively cheap, but the cost of living is even more expensive. As for housing prices, for example, a shared apartment in a central location in not really good condition, which is actually common there, you have to expect monthly costs of about 950 €.
Antonia: And I thought Würzburg was expensive. And our windows are even tight.
Bella: Tel Aviv is really another benchmark. But in general, all living costs are very high there. In the supermarket a package of noodles costs 5€, the cheapest oat milk also costs 5€ and also fruits and vegetables is not much cheaper. I was there once shopping for about 2-3 dishes and paid 50€. Eating out is unfortunately just as expensive as partying, so if you go to a club there then you pay 10€ for the cheapest beer and it's a small beer. Unfortunately, you get used to the prices too quickly and you think even if you are already there, you also want to take everything. But my internship was supported by a scholarship, as I said, which covers these basic costs. In addition, we also had a few benefits from our startup. We were given a lunch card and then our lunch was paid for. Over time, you also find tricks to help you get by a little more cheaply.
Antonia: Then it wasn't as bad as I thought at the beginning. It just adds up super-fast. Especially when you consider that a person eats 3 meals a day, that's 21 meals a week or more. And when living costs are already almost 1000 Euros and then adding the shopping etc., it's not so pleasant for a poor student like us.
Bella: The prices are again a completely different caliber. But you have to say that public transport is very cheap, much cheaper than ours, and cell phone contracts are much cheaper too. With my cell phone contract, I had 250GB per month for 8€.
Antonia: I also pay 8€ a month but I have 3GB, but I'm also allowed to make calls.
Bella: SMS, calls and 250GB per month was included in the contract I had there. You could never use it up completely, but that didn't matter.
Antonia: That's cool, but unfortunately doesn't compensate for all the other costs that arise. But still a nice surprise. Were you paid anything else during your internship, if I may ask, apart from the paid lunch?
Bella: No, you don't get anything from the employer, that is also contractually stipulated. It is just supported with this scholarship and beyond that there is nothing more.
Antonia: Do you get the scholarship in any case?
Bella: Yes, exactly. Even if you have an internship, you must apply again externally for the scholarship, but in 95% of the cases you get it in any case. And besides that, you get small benefits from the employer from time to time, we were lucky that our employer really provided us with some things, unfortunately that wasn't the case with others, but otherwise you don't get a fixed salary or anything like that from the employer.
Antonia: But otherwise you got around quite well?
Bella: Yes, exactly.
Antonia: What other experiences have you had, excursions you've made, any insider tips for us?
Bella: I can imagine that not so many people have been to Tel Aviv, because Israel is not a main travel destination, but about Tel Aviv itself I can say: It is an incredibly vibrant city with pulsating life and party-loving people. You have the beach promenade that runs along the whole city which is really beautiful. There are super many bars and clubs in the city, the people are as I said very party-loving. One of my favorite places in Tel Aviv as far as the bar and club scene is concerned is the Teder FM, which used to be a radio station and has since been converted into a bar with a relatively large courtyard where events such as concerts and second-hand markets take place. In this place there is always something going on in a great atmosphere and many different people come together, with good music the people are usually very exuberant. This is one of my favorite places in Tel Aviv. Otherwise, there is of course a lot to see in the rest of Israel. I think one of my highlights was when I was in Bethlehem at Christmas, so I celebrated Christmas in Bethlehem and then I was also in the Church of the Nativity there, that was a unique experience. Then I was also in the Dead Sea, which is totally cool when you float on the surface of the water, which you have to get used to. You can also go directly from Israel to Palestine, which I would recommend to everyone, to see the other side of the conflict.
Antonia: Have you been to any other surrounding countries?
Bella: No, I was in Palestine and otherwise in no other neighboring countries, because due to the pandemic all borders were closed.
Antonia: Ah yes Corona, my mistake.
Bella: But in Israel itself there is really a lot to see. You have the north with the Golan Heights, you have cities like Jerusalem, where you can look at the last 2000 years of history in the old city and then of course you have the Dead Sea. You can go all the way to the south to the Red Sea and then you can see over to Egypt to the Sinai, so there is really a lot to see there.
Antonia: Is it easy to get there by public transport or is it rather tricky?
Bella: It's actually super well covered throughout the country. There are actually only buses, there are only a few train connections, one is between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and one between Tel Aviv and Haifa. But you can get everywhere else with the buses. I once made a small hiking trip to the north, also over the Sabbath, which was then a bit risky, because of course no more buses came. I caught the last one, but you really have to watch out, but otherwise everything is actually very well covered with buses.
Antonia: Perfect. Other insider tips? Food, we've been over that. Restaurants?
Bella: In Tel Aviv I can recommend the Bicicletta, one of my favorite restaurants, then definitely Golda Ice-cream, which is really the best ice cream, unfortunately a scoop costs 7-8€ but it's worth it, and then Anita Ice-cream, the Camel Market, you should also definitely visit and try through and eat Shlomo and Doron Hummus. You probably can't do too much with that now, but if any of you ever want to go to Tel Aviv, best write that down, those are the best restaurants in my opinion.
Antonia: Thank you very much, if I get there I will check out everything. What did you get out of your internship abroad for your life? How did it change you? How did you let it affect you?
Bella: Because it is culturally and socially very different from ours, I could really take a lot with me, because I lived there completely differently during this time or was with completely different people in a completely different environment and one of the things I could take for me was that because of this politically tense situation, the people there have a completely different behavior, a completely different attitude. I found that super exciting to observe, because Israelis are super exuberant and super relaxed and really live for the day for the moment and worry little about their future.
Antonia: So it's a big contrast to here.
Bella: Exactly, it's a very big contrast to here. And of course also in terms of the work mentality, this "we'll just try it now, we'll just give it a try, we won't think about what could go wrong now".
Antonia: How was it for you when you came back to Germany and were surrounded by a completely different mentality again? So from this lively, lets do it lifestyle back to our German somewhat cooler, punctual lifestyle.
Bella: It was quite funny, because at the beginning I was at home with my parents and it was all so quiet and I wondered where the honking cars were, where the loud people were and then I also noticed when I talked to my family and friends that the people here are so reserved. That's when I really had a re-culture shock, I think it's called. That was quite funny, but of course you get used to it again very quickly.
Antonia: Yes, I think so. Final question: would you recommend it? So the internship abroad itself and also the internship abroad in Tel Aviv, Israel?
Bella: I would definitely recommend both. Especially with regard to the internship abroad, because it really is a unique, very great experience through which you can really broaden your horizons. And I would personally recommend Israel as well, I had a really great time there, but of course you have to be interested in the country so that you can put up with minor hardships on the trip and also have the desire to explore the country. If you have any other questions, feel free to write to me as well. Maybe we can include that in the show notes.
Antonia: Yes, I will. Great, thank you, those were really some exciting and interesting insights. I will sooner or later travel there anyway, that's been the plan for a long time, my uncle has an apartment there, so I'm now also already quite well prepared for it, thank you for that! Hopefully your interest was also aroused. I'll also write all the info in the show notes, including how you can reach out to Bella or me. Until the next episode hopefully. See you soon.
Bella: Bye, take care.