The Indo-Israeli Love Affair

Indian students share their first impressions of Israel and how they found themselves, both socially and academically, at Tel Aviv University
08 December 2013
International students Ratnik Gandhi, Neethu Rajam, and Soumyendu Roy discuss life in Israel at a TAU cafe

Travelling from his quiet village in northern India to Tel Aviv University, Rajeev Kumar, 27, felt his first wave of culture shock as he stepped off the plane into the land of milk, hummus and all-night coffee shops. “Everything was new to me – the food, the language, the pace of life. It was exciting yet overwhelming at the same time,” he recalls. As Rajeev struggled to carry his overstuffed suitcase up the steps to his dormitory room, a burly Israeli student suddenly came from behind, grabbed the other end of the bag and walked with him the rest of the way. “At this moment, my fear of being a stranger in Israel vanished, and I felt at home.”


Rajeev recently began his studies in TAU’s new International BSc in Electrical and Electronics Engineering Program, the goal of which is to offer overseas students a world-class education in the heart of Israel’s high-tech hub. According to Managing Director of the Program, Mr. Daniel Nissimyan, “The new BSc Program, together with the University's numerous other international study offerings at TAU International, are greatly contributing to the global feel of the campus. Five years ago, there were less than 5 Indian students in engineering; today there are over 15 enrolled from the BSc to post-doc level.” Engineering has always been Rajeev’s passion. “I believe that engineers can help solve the majority of the world’s crises, such as food and water shortages. The key is developing new technologies – an area in which Israel excels,” Rajeev explains. Israel’s ingenuity and its ability to thrive despite limited resources is what initially drew him to the BSc program.


In his own life, Rajeev has learned to be resourceful. After completing 10th grade, he began teaching himself college-level calculus and physics. He also volunteered as a math and physics tutor for six years, helping dozens of students pass India’s competitive college entrance exams. Rajeev dreams of one day opening a programming company in his home town, a place where jobs are scarce. “I want to stop brain drain from the villages to the metropolitan cities. I know it is not easy starting up a company, but I am extremely committed. My TAU education will help me achieve this goal.”Today, if Rajeev is not in class, you can find him independently teaching himself computer programming.


When Tel Aviv Met Hindustan

While the number of Indian students at TAU has increased exponentially over the past few years, so has the number of TAU-India collaborations. These include an agreement between Indian industry giant Tata Industries and Ramot, the University’s tech transfer company, to fund TAU technologies with commercial potential in a wide range of fields, such as engineering, exact sciences, environmental studies, cleantech, pharmaceuticals and health care.


TAU also pioneered the India-Israel Forum in 2007, in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Aspen India. This annual conference series, which brings together economic and academic leaders from India and Israel, has been highly successful in creating friendships, partnerships and networks. 


Embracing Israeli Chutzpah

Bhawna Singh, 36, had no trouble adjusting to the honest, straightforward mentality of Israelis. She explains that people will approach you on the street to offer their unsolicited advice in India too. “For me it was refreshing, and I found it easy to get close to people in Tel Aviv. Both cultures are very family-oriented,” she notes.



A recent graduate of TAU’s Sofaer International MBA Program, Bhwana chose TAU for its extensive networking opportunities. She plans to use her contacts from the program to build her own IT business in India. “I now have friends in almost every major country,” she enthuses. “Together, we created a pact that whenever one of us needed help or a connection, we could rely on one another.”


Bhawna, who grew up in a religious household in Rajasthan, believes that because of certain cultural similarities between India and Israel, as well their extensive trade ties, India-Israel collaborations will continue to grow in the coming years.


Cyber Fever

Vishal Dharmadhikari, 21, a native of Pune, India, who has also lived in Botswana and South Africa, admits that he did not know what to expect in Israel. “My main exposure to the Holy Land came from the media, which portrays Israel as a dangerous place. I was surprised by how safe I felt walking around. People are strolling along the boardwalk during all hours of the night,” he recounts.



Motivated by Israel’s prowess in the fields of counterterrorism and cyber security, Vishal enrolled in TAU’s International Master’s Program in Security and Diplomacy – the only one of its kind in Israel – as well as a leadership program at the Israel-Asia Center. During his studies, Vishal organized a special event called “India-Israel Cyber Security Connect,” which was part of TAU’s Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security. His event, which was attended by Israeli and Indian tech companies as well as diplomats and cyber security experts, addressed the need for greater cooperation between the two countries, at a time when both India and Israel face increasing threats of cybercrime.  


The success of the event inspired Vishal to found his own start-up company in Pune called India Cyber Connect, which aims to strengthen cyber security in India by creating cross-border partnerships. In his spare time, Vishal writes for popular Indian magazines such as Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs and for the blog Product Nation.


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