By Edka Wong

“There’s a First For Everything”

The first time I climbed the steps to the tel felt like the first couple steps I took off the plane at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv. I felt a rush of adrenaline and eagerness regardless of the fact that I had no prior archeological experience to speak of. July 3, 2016 was my first time in Israel—well, really the Middle East in general—and July 5, 2016 was my first time on Tel Napoleon where I would spend my next month excavating. My first day in Israel, I heard the word “patische” for the first time and within my first week, I woke up before my 4:45AM alarm for the first time (mainly because of jet lag and not my own sheer will).

As a student on the pre-law track, never had I thought I’d find myself in work pants and boots, knee deep in dirt swinging pick-axes by day and pottery washing by night. There truly is a “first for everything” as they say. Day by day, I’d learn something new and became fascinated by the history of the tel that would gradually be uncovered through archaeological interpretation. I learned about the different strata of time periods that existed under our feet, 5×5 baulks, 4×4 squares, the loci system, and so on and so forth. However, many “firsts” shortly became routine and many once exciting undertakings became commonplace—like sweeping…and sifting!

Once I’d thought I’d seen it all, and even possibly mastered amateur digging prowess (maybe), I learned of a new detail of the dig: survey. Survey was, until that point, irrelevant to my abroad experience. I had heard returning students talk about it—either great or miserable things, nothing in between—but I didn’t have a clue as to what it was. But of course, as this has been a trip for many “first times,” I soon became quite acquainted with survey. It was hot outside and survey was physically demanding, tedious, yet also incredibly rewarding and fun. For the six hours I spent on the tel, I used the combination of a tarea and a big pick to dig four 40x40x40cm holes on the side of a hill and collected ten pieces of pottery (on a good pit). And yes that is the rewarding and fun part. Survey is rewarding because the work that is done helps identify areas of interest and future plans to excavate. Survey is fun because when else would I have the chance to swing a giant pickaxe into the ground with the view of the Mediterranean? Unlike excavating meticulously in a square like I normally do, I got to less articulately dig pits with tools I would otherwise most likely not be trusted with. Survey can be hard work but when has anything worthwhile been easy?

Through my time thus far, I’ve learned much more than archaeology. I’ve learned a few words in Hebrew, local scenes, and even met some of the faces of Akko. However, the most important thing I’ve learned abroad is that there will always be a first experience to appreciate. There will always be something new for you so don’t shy away from it because it could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just like this study abroad.