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by Wei Zheng

To tell you a little about myself, I’m a first generation Asian born in China if that matters. I like cycling, sweets, and cats and I dislike bugs and people who try to talk to me in the morning after I’ve gotten out of bed. I’m a student going on to become a senior at Binghamton University.

I’ll start off with the first time I heard of the Akko field school. It was during the last spring semester in Professor Sugarman’s Egypt and Nubia class that I took for an elective. At the time, I had recently switched over to an archaeology major because I enjoyed the classes and learning considered a possible career path in this field. I had no idea what to expect from the field school when it was announced on the first day of classes, but it provided an opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone and see the world. At the same time, I felt the program seemed too good to be true and took it with a grain of salt. I eventually decided to commit to this and did all the paperwork, meetings, scholarship applications and doctor visits for it which was a hassle, but you got to do what you got to do.

I told my best friend about my plans for the summer, and like everyone I told subsequently, he said: “why Israel, have you seen the news about it?” I didn’t have a clue either at the time and thought of doing something other than summer classes at Binghamton or working would be fun. I didn’t see Israel in a negative light as all my friends did but as another semester in the dull and depressing Binghamton University, except with more sunlight and less depressing atmosphere. My expectations were spot on, and I have to say so far, I had a great time with a few exceptions. The sun for one was more than I had expected it to be and immediately got sunburned by the end of our first excavation at the tel. Even with all the sunblock on, it still got to me and made all the preparations I had made to prevent sunburns go down the drain.

Like all parents, they worry about their children when they go away especially to distant places. My family is very traditional and don’t particularly go on vacations, much less traveling. When I first called my parents to let them let them know about my plan to go to Israel, my parents flipped out and were against me going at first. I seldomly call them, so it was an added surprise which is entirely my fault (haha) and took a bit of time to explain to them in my broken Chinese with some English mixed in. You have to understand that my parents immigrated to the US, didn’t have any form of education and I’m the first in my family to go to college. So the concept of study abroad didn’t register, but finally, they came around and supported the fact that it was educational and decided to let me go.

Fast-forward to my arrival at Tel Aviv. I wanted to sleep. Sleep deprived and in an entirely new environment with barely anyone I knew much less familiar faces made me already starting to cast doubts on the study abroad. I felt homesick which was unusual for me, and I have yet to take a step outside the airport, but I was already here. I saw the large group of students and picked up it was the other students and professors who arrived early for the shuttle. We didn’t get onto the bus until if my memory served me correctly around 7 pm and arrived for dinner 9ish. My first meal here was fried fish with fries, and I thought it was a very nonforeign meal to have; could be from all the movies I watched where people traveling to foreign countries are served the most exotic food possible. The next day was entirely introductory lectures and tours of the old city of Akko trying to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings. It was an overwhelming amount of information pertaining to the Tel Akko excavation, do’s and don’t and staff introductions; two weeks in and I still don’t remember everyone’s names. I eventually remember peoples names if I have interacted with them and staff members have limited interactions with everyone as they mainly stain in their designated excavation square site as well as the other students. I appreciated the efforts of the staff members such as Tammi, Dr. Killebrew and Rachel for giving us such a warm welcome and rapidly going through the information to quickly dispatch us into the excavation. It was my first field school excavation, and I felt proud of having a hands-on learning experience.

One of the parts I hate about excavating at the Tel is how early we have to wake up. The bus leaves precisely 5:30 am every morning, so that means I have to be up by 5 to get dressed, brush my teeth, put on sunscreen, fill up my water bottle, have a light breakfast and make tea. Then we stay to excavate until 12:30 pm. It makes sense to do the excavations early since it can get scorching very quickly which I’ve learned from the first-hand experience. I initially thought the Tel was far away since we were riding a bus, but I found out later it was close to the mall which was walking distance. I realized a few days into the dig; the bus was utilized more for transporting all the pottery buckets repatriated to the Tel and the ones excavated to bring back for pottery washing and pottery analysis. To the locals, the Tel is referred to as Napoleon’s Hill since Napoleon had come to conquer Akko in the past but failed miserably. The hill wasn’t even historically accurate since Napoleon never made it to that hill. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop the people of Akko from putting up a statue of Napoleon onto of the hill and naming it Napoleon’s Hill after their enemy.

The first day on the Tel started off with a tour of our excavation site, and the Tel as the Tel’s primary function was a park. We later moved bags of dirt out of squares and deposited the dirt into a dumpsite. I started as the person who filled up the wheelbarrows with the dirt and eventually moved on to using the wheelbarrows to dump the dirt out for the entire day. I wasn’t sure what to expect on an archaeological site as it was my first time on such a site, but by the end of the first day, I felt proud of myself for getting through the first day. What came afterward was the downhill struggle and the fight to see who gets to use the shower first. All the fatigue hits you as you’re lugging the pottery filled buckets down with you to the bus. Even worst is the showering situation since you get a short 25 minutes sometimes 20 for three people to shower and change to be on time for lunch. Lunchtime makes up for it since the best meals are served during this time. Breakfast and dinner usually consisted of nonprotein meals other than hard boiled eggs and raw veggies and fruits which I’m already tired of eating by the third day.

I have to say that morning time and breakfast time at the Tel is enjoyable. Watching the sunrise in the morning is incredible as it has this warm light pink tint that reveals itself for a brief moment and disappears into the violent sunlight. The shout of breakfast time at 8:30 am is soothing and one of the things I look forward to. As the days started to progress, we began to do actual field work such as excavating. Since I’m taking the GIS course, I’ve begun to do surveying along with my square and split my time between the two. People think surveying is more physically intensive since you have to dig 40cm by 40cm by 40cm holes while you’re out in the sun but I’ve started to grow a liking to it.

About Wei

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