A little something on Israeli university culture as opposed to what I’ve known (in relation to my academic culture shock in the last 2 weeks):
In the States, university was a hardcore 24/7 experience. I lived, ate, breathed college in dorm, lecture hall and frat party forms. As far as work, it was intense from freshmen year until I graduated. Playtime was around the clock, even when writing papers at 4 am and sitting in lecture halls, oggling my crush. I always had some kind of job to pay some of the bills, but for the most part, loans and parents were the #1 form of income – due to the fact that school was so universal, there was no time for a ‘real’ job, with ‘real’ wages.
In Israel, universita is something you go to fulfill a requirement in getting a BA or MA to get a job. It is not really a 24/7 experiece because the other half of your time is spent working as much as you can to pay all your bills. Faculty seems to understand this, and whether it is for that reason or the general laid-back quality of living in Israel, the workload is lighter (or maybe it seems lighter comparatively). Less emphasis on reading, which is mainly in English (that could be an explanation). Whereas I was writing 1-3 papers throughout the semester and completing a final at the end of each term, now I am (maybe) writing a paper and then (maybe) a final. Another explanation, and difference, is that courses here run for a whole year a lot of the time. They are once a week and stretching across the whole academic year instead of bulking up 4 or 5 courses in one semester and then starting all over again.
On the whole, in Israel, experience is valued much higher than university degrees, although those are still necessary on a CV. I think that intense experience, however, would beat out a degree if the choice was there for an employer. Israelis seem to have more experience prior to entering the workforce because of mandatory army service and the necessity to work for pocket money from a younger age.
The point is that Israelis are working to get that degree to get that higher paying job, but they are also working to eat and sleep with a shelter over their heads. I have a feeling it is similar for American grad students (as opposed to undergrad), but I wonder to what degree?
Note: I am mainly describing the liberal arts university experience. Obviously, specialty degrees and targeted programs are different and more intense. This is a summary of how I view my liberal arts experiences in both places.