By Connor Love
I had fried myself from the sun and 20 knot Santa Ana winds all day. I had decided to film my friend who had just gotten in the water, the waves were small but of good quality. When I saw that I had to go I gave him a hug in the water and walked to my car just before sunset. I knew it was my last day in the Pacific Ocean, I was trading it for a “small” gulf that defines the northern extent of the Red Sea. I was off to Israel for ~2 months to study coral feeding from a proposal I had written a year before (who says dreams don’t come true)? I was excited for the new project as I had never worked with coral before. I have travelled abroad before for work and had confidence in my ability to make friends and adapt but I knew I was going to miss my time in the waves and my friends and loved ones. Everyone has something they feel they are leaving behind when they travel.
After a month in Eilat I found people relaxed and slower moving than California, but they retained this certain intensity of character that I can’t quite name. The landscape seemed to echo this with huge, dusty and dry desert, high and tight border walls from Egypt and Jordan, leading to a beautiful fringing coral reef whose fish can’t tell where Egypt ends and Jordan begins. I swam for many days in awe of the coral, particularly their health. The Gulf of Aqaba is not overtaken by macroalgae or degraded from warming like many of the other reefs of the world, a treasure of the world. If global warming trends continue, these reefs will likely be some of the last ones left in the world because the corals in the Gulf can handle absurdly hot temperatures. As it goes, this beautiful continuous reef system of the Red Sea is flanked by eight different countries that don’t necessarily all get along with each other.
I found the anticipation of the project is actually much more challenging than the project itself. The planning, the controlling of materials for science: the ones that need to get there, the ones already there, the ones that you need to bring. There comes this point where you can only plan so far, and at that point you still probably planned too hard. As a scientist you want to plan your whole experiment and all your sampling, but there will be inevitable changes, there always are. You can not anticipate all of them. Kindness and a smile go a long way, being open to the changes of your project and the people around you that will help you just because they are good people. I find that this holds true for most places, particularly in Israel. Science is never done entirely by one person, or if it is, those days are long gone.
To keep this short I will say that taking an extended work trip to a foreign country is fascinating and challenging, a deep look inside yourself (you can never really “leave” problems at home) but also a deep look at the common threads amongst humans. It is such a great opportunity to immerse into another culture and get lost. Work hard but not all the time, smile and learn and make new friends.