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Covid Journals: Exchange MBA student from Tel Aviv6 min read

The Oppy is continuing to publish submissions from members of the Stern community about how the Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted their experiences in and out of the program. If you wish to write about your own experience, please e-mail us at [email protected]

By Moshe Hildesheimer

Two years ago, when I decided that the next step in my career path would be to attend an MBA program, I spent many hours wondering what the best career choice for me would be – should I attend an Israeli university or apply to a top-tier international American university?

Both sides had their pros and cons: studying in a university in Tel Aviv meant staying in my comfort zone, which is not an easy thing to give up when facing the challenging years of the MBA. It would also be easier financially as top-tier universities in the US cost a fortune. Moreover, leaving my family behind, and moving with my partner to a new country is a great challenge. On the other hand, moving to the US has the potential to be a huge leap forward in my career path, more than attending an Israeli MBA program. It will also expose me to a new culture and environment I was curious about.

After considering the options, and consulting with alumni, I found the perfect option for me. Studying at Tel Aviv University, in the most prestigious MBA program in Israel, with an option to participate in a student exchange program with an American university. During law school, I participated in a student exchange to Germany and was excited for the opportunity to have a similar experience, this time in the US.

After successfully passing the GMAT, I started to study at Tel Aviv University, specializing in technology and entrepreneurship. Knowing the university has an exchange program with NYU, I set myself a goal to be accepted to the program. The application process was long and included interviews, an essay, recommendation letters, and video presentations. The competition was hard, with approximately 10 candidates for each spot.

At the beginning of 2020, I was informed that I was accepted to the NYU program for fall 2020. I was thrilled to achieve my goal and was convinced of one thing – 2020 is going to be the best year EVER!

There is just one minor thing I did not account for…a worldwide pandemic.

Covid-19 taught me a lesson about adjusting to a changing reality more than any MBA course ever could. After months of uncertainty, during summer 2020 it became clear that the option of attending the exchange in-person would not be an option. The only option I had was to participate in the student exchange…remotely.

This option posed many questions – how will I attend live remote classes with a time zone difference of 7 hours? Would it be possible to create friendships and network through Zoom? Does a remote exchange program still have the potential to become a valuable and memorable experience?

With the understanding this experience will be significantly different than what I imagined, I decided to try and make the best of the situation and participate in the first-ever remote exchange.

At the end of August, the orientation started and from the very first moment, all my concerns disappeared. Stern has its magic and it was strong and noticed even from the other side of the globe.  

The MBA International Programs Team office helped me and the other 10 exchange students, and they did a great job making us feel welcome and part of a community.

While we had the option to watch the class recordings in case we cannot attend live classes due to the time zone differences, I preferred to take morning classes (that happened in my evenings).  It was important for me to take part in-class discussions and have the closest thing possible to in-person studies.

As Stern offers such a wide variety of courses, I chose to take courses in diverse fields of interest: technology, law, managers’ decision making, and entrepreneurship. All these were very interesting and were linked by teaching skills important for promoting a business.

The Stern professors are not only brilliant, but they also care about the classes and do so much for their students to have the best learning experience. I was happy to see that creating engagement – even remotely – was their top priority.  

It was apparent that even students living in the US, or even near NYU were missing the in-person experience and network opportunities. Instead of chatting over a beer on Thursdays, everyone made special efforts to make a connection while working on group projects. Everyone was so friendly!

Meanwhile, the pandemic situation in Israel evolved. At the beginning of the pandemic, Israel closed the borders quickly and managed to “flatten the curve” of the first surge of cases. However, right around when I started the exchange, the number of cases started to increase again. All the restaurants have been closed almost constantly since March (great opportunity to improve home cooking skills!), and no crowded events have been allowed. Over time it appeared that the government started dealing with immense political pressure from different groups and parties. Eventually, the government allowed the re-opening of the country in almost a normal manner, except for requesting social distancing and mandatory masks. Unfortunately, this led to the second increase in COVID cases, and by the end of September, Israel was the first country to face a second lockdown.

The lockdown did not influence my studies at Stern. In fact, knowing there were no options for activities outside, freed me from “FOMO” and helped me concentrate in classes during the evenings.

In October, I was recruited to the Israeli army (IDF) for a few weeks. In Israel, there is a mandatory military service of three years, and I served for almost 5 years because I was also an officer. It is very common to be called for reserve duty a few days a year well into your 40th. When I finished law school, I was reassigned as a lawyer-in-reserve officer. However, in times of national urgency such as in the case of the pandemic, anyone who can help is asked to enlist for a limited time. Logging in to a Zoom class from my iPhone while sitting in the soldier’s barracks was a surreal experience.

Today, after my exchange semester is over, and one day after I received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination, I am excited to look back on all the crazy experiences of 2020.

The expectation in Israel is to have 60-70% of all citizens vaccinated by the end of March, and we are all looking forward to this.

Even though this semester was completely different from what I expected or imagined, it was still the best experience I had during my MBA studies. I hope we will soon witness the world going back to normal and cannot wait to visit Stern as soon as possible.  

Photo credit: AP Photo Oded Balilty

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