Meet Yin Yue, a student at National University of Singapore (NUS). Yin Yue came back from a 6 month stint with NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) in Israel early last year. She shares her enriching experience with us today.

Hi Yin Yue! So what were you doing in Israel?

I went to Israel for 6 months, from January to July last year (2012). It was an internship experience that exposed my batch mates and I to the bustling entrepreneurship scene in Israel. I was working with YCD Multimedia, a company that does digital signage.

Tell us more about NOC, and the selection criteria.

The NOC selection process is tough. You go through two to three rounds of interviews. Generally, you can never tell what they will ask in the interviews. The first stage is like a group interview consisting of around 10 people. The later stages are individual, really just about getting to know you better as a person.

Why Israel?

Well, I couldn’t go for a one year programme, as I was going to graduate soon. So, I was left to choose from the choices of India, Israel or a local internship. To be honest, I really didn’t do very extensive research. Initially, I ranked India first in my choice during the interview, as nobody I knew had gone to Israel before. But then, I went to meet the program coordinator in charge of Israel. She told me it is a really great place and that I should consider going. She told me about the entrepreneurial culture in Israel, especially with technology. They say it is like the second Silicon Valley in the world.

What were your impressions when you first arrived?

My very first impression upon arrival was that it was very cooling! The weather was really nice, not harsh at all! Winter is only 10 degrees! A pretty awesome change from the weather in Singapore.

Also, while the men may seem intimidating at first, everyone’s actually extremely welcoming! The taxi drivers were really friendly, they always helped me unload my luggage. There’s a tipping culture for restaurants, about 20%, but I don’t think there are tips given to taxi drivers.

Chutzpah 1

Lifts in the apartment

The apartments are really interesting. Lift doors usually open horizontally, right? In Israel, you have to open the door like a room door and you have to close the shutters before you can operate it. It’s also a very small lift – can probably only fit around four to five people squeezed together.

What does the city feel like?

The CBD area is a little like Singapore – a lot of high-rise buildings, but not so cramped. There are about ten tall buildings, and the rest are mostly shop houses two to three stories high.

Did that match your expectations of Israel?

Actually, I didn’t really have many expectations of Israel. Maybe from the stereotypes, I thought it might be really run down, but it was okay in general! I was staying at the border of Tel Aviv, in a good estate called Ramat Aviv.

Chutzpah 2

View from my apartment

How was communication in Israel? Did you have to learn a new language?

My friend went for a workshop on the language and culture and taught me basics, like Shalom (hello), and Manishma (What’s up!). The younger generation all know English though, so it wasn’t difficult to talk to them. On the streets, the signage is mostly in Hebrew, but the bus stands do have English too.

Chutzpah 3

A Hebrew bus sign

Lets get to living in Israel. Did you feel scared, especially with media portrayal of Israel?

I didn’t feel any kind of danger or threat at all. But there was once, one of my batch mates stayed at Be’ersheva, where there was a bombing at one point of time around the area. My friend didn’t felt any impact from the bombing, so it must still have been rather far away.

Do the Israelis take any precautions to protect them from these threats? How about yourself?

There are protected areas where people can seek shelter should there be any threat or danger. Also, Home Front Command drills are sometimes conducted throughout the country for the citizens to practice at workplace, schools and their homes. When I was there, I heard the siren for Memorial Day that sounded through the country. Everyone stood up and observed a minute of silence as respect for the people who passed on during the war.

The siren also means danger right? How do the Israelis react?

Apparently the siren hasn’t rung in years. Last year was probably the first in 10 years that the siren had rung.

How is safety on the street?

Contrary to popular belief, Israel is actually a lot safer than the US. Everyone in Israel, even the females, have to go through conscription in the army. They carry their guns around with them at all times, so it is safe even at night. Civilians are not allowed to have guns. I have never experienced anything with pickpockets or anything like that.

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Soldiers at the train station

Israelis are also all generally nice and family orientated, so I guess that added to why we felt safe on the streets.

What was working life like?

The people there are really friendly. The difference between Israel and Singapore is that the employees are not afraid to voice out their opinions. During meetings, it is not uncommon to have employer and employee shouting at each other. But the thing is, they actually quarrel very efficiently! Even though they shout and raise their voices, they always settle the problem professionally, and still leave the meeting as friends.

There is also a lets sit down and talk culture. If we have a problem, we sit down face to face and talk. I initially thought it was quite time consuming, you know when it can be done through email. But I have come to appreciate the way that solution solves problems.

Do employees work a fixed time?

Yes, 9am to 6pm. It’s pretty flexible – each employee usually has one day a week they leave early to run errands. We normally go out for lunch. They are not very strict about the lunch timings, and I didn’t have to do much OT.

Also, in YCD Multimedia, every Thursday at 3pm, the company has a bonding session – Kabbalat Shabbat. It is a time for bonding, and to welcome Shabbat, a period of time that begins at sundown on Saturdays to sundown on Sundays, when Jews are not allowed to touch electrical appliances, i.e. drive cars, use phones. It is a day to rest. Generally, there will be a lot of food and mingling, and people will give a review of what they have achieved during the week. Something interesting is that if anyone has a birthday, they will bring their own cake and celebrate during this time as well!

Do the employees hang out together outside of work?

There are a lot of holidays in Israel, so we hang out then. One holiday I experienced was the Purim Festival, something like Halloween, everyone wears a costume to work. On that day, the company does invite the employees’ kids to work dressed in costumes. So they basically work with the kids around!Chutzpah 5

Purim party for employee’s kids, organised by YCD

There are a lot of open-air parties, which generally occupy streets, and everyone will dance. They’re full of booze and music and dance!

Israel has a big drinking culture. I didn’t expect that because I thought they were all religious and that they weren’t all drinkers. But the university students do throw a lot of home parties, with drinking and clubbing!Chutzpah 6

A street party!

Have you interned in Singapore before, can you drop us a comparison?

I felt that my boss was really nice to me, so the kind of bond I had with my Israeli boss I really different from what I had here. In Singapore, it is very much limited to a working relationship. In Israel, my boss really took care of me. She invited me for events, like her daughter’s birthday. I actually still do keep in contact with her after all this time. There is no hierarchy in the companies – it’s quite flat. I could easily talk to the co-founder of the company even though I was just an intern.

Also, in Israel, everyone greets each other in the morning, regardless of the departments they are in. In Singapore, usually if you do not belong to the same department, you do not even talk to each other. Employees in Israeli companies know everyone else in the company.

How do Israelis feel towards foreigners?

They’re all so welcoming! My co-workers were really curious about Asians, so they asked me a lot of questions about Singapore. They think we are too orderly, and that it’s funny that our government banned chewing gum! They invited me to their lunch outings regularly. I don’t think they are xenophobic at all. People in the streets, random strangers, will even come up to you and ask where you are from!

Also, on the streets, people are so outgoing. They will openly just talk to each other about business ideas. I love that every conversation can turn into a business discussion. There is a real entrepreneurial spirit that is so different from Singapore. Rules are nothing to Israelis – they are always trying to break out of the norm. That’s how the innovative ideas are born.

What is your advice for someone who intends to go to Israel and work?

Well, you’ll need to learn to stand up for oneself and be aggressive. I thought I was rather aggressive in Singapore already, but in Israel, my mentor told me that I have to be a lot more aggressive and loud! You have to show that you are passionate and emotional. If you tend to be quiet about things that you want, chances are you won’t get it.

How do people dress for work?

Jeans and sports shoes! There is no corporate wear, but when they go out to meet clients then yes they do dress up formal.

What is shopping like?

My area is inhabited mostly by wealthy families, so the shopping mall nearby is a luxury haven. Tel Aviv has lots of boutique shops, with mostly trendy European fashion. Zara is really cheap there!

Do you like the local food?

Yes, but its rather expensive compared to food in Singapore. The cheapest food is around 33 shekels, about $11 SGD – normally kebabs or falafel. Alcohol is cheap though!

Chutzpah 7

A falafel meal

You mention the standard of living is really high?

Yes, it is in fact comparable, or higher than the cost of living in Singapore. Rent for the whole apartment I was staying in was about 2000 shekels a month.

Everyone goes to the Dead Sea when in Israel – how was your experience?

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The Dead Sea

It was about 19 degrees the first time I went, so I didn’t feel really cold. After my friends and I came out from floating in the sea, the wind suddenly made it crazy cold. Also, for some reason, we felt disgustingly slimy when we got onto dry land! However, our skin did feel smooth like a baby’s after 🙂

The second time I went to Dead Sea, I found dead sea mud! The kind that people use for facials. I saw people with really black faces so I asked them what it was, and they directed us to dig for the mud between rocks! It looked really disgusting but it felt really cool after slapping on your face. The locals actually gave me a bottle of mud to bring home, and I still have it in my fridge!


Chutzpah 9People digging for mud

Could you round up your experience in Israel for us?

After my experience, I feel that Israel is indeed much more than just an emerging market. The technology is so high-tech, and very interesting. Did you know Viber is from Israel? So is Waze, a navigation technology, and USB too! Even food – the cherry tomato is from Israel. Most just think it’s desert and camels and people in completely wrapped up garb. But it’s totally different – so European and open.

Israel is actually doing very well, but because of external threats and their relationships with neighbouring countries, it has a negative portrayal especially on the media. It makes people less receptive to changing the stereotypes. If they didn’t have the slightest idea, they wouldn’t care to find out more.

In Israel, I really learned to embrace the spirit of chutzpah – to have audacity!

I would like to work there if I can. I will definitely go back.