For Israeli Med Students in Budapest, Hamburgers With a Scent of Formaldehyde

Arrivals / Departures: Two students explain why they had to leave Israel to study medicine; a teen heading to Brussels for a tae kwon do tournament dreams of the Olympics.

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Dikla Perlzweig (left) and Wael Zaina.
Dikla Perlzweig (left) and Wael Zaina.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Dikla Perlzweig, 28, and Wael Zaina, 21; live in Budapest, arriving from there

Hello, can I ask what you did on your trip?

Dikla: It wasn’t a trip, we live there. Now it’s the Easter break, so we came over.

Wael: We’ve been med students in the same school for three years. We know each other from the preparatory course.

Why Budapest?

Dikla: Because it’s possible there.

So what’s it like in Budapest?

Dikla: Amazing. I’m originally from Haifa, and Budapest is classic Europe. It’s not that I can enjoy the city all that much, because most of the time I’m busy with books.

What would I have to do if I wanted to study medicine in Budapest?

Dikla: First of all, get money.

Wael: It’s quite expensive, comparatively.

Dikla: And after you enroll and are accepted, the burden of proof is on you.

Why did you want to be doctors?

Dikla: I was a volunteer in Magen David Adom [emergency ambulance service] for a year or two, and that was an eye-opener. I actually was a theater major in an arts high school, but in the end I came back to this. The volunteering was part of the student’s personal obligations in school. It was a long time ago – I only started med school when I was 25. But that’s how it is with Aries – it takes them a long time, if at all.

And why Budapest?

Dikla: Because I did the psychometric exam [for university] and discovered that I would have to be reborn in order to fulfill myself in our sweet little country. But I’ll come back eventually. I need the Israeli thing; I certainly won’t stay in Hungary.

Wael: I graduated from high school in Acre at age 18, and in Israel you have to be at least 21 to start med school. I didn’t see any reason to wait all that time. I didn’t have anything to do. I didn’t want to work. I considered volunteering, but I think that my studies cover all those aspects. I will contribute to the society if I am a doctor, b’ezrat Hashem [“With God’s help” in Hebrew].

Dikla: Hey ho, b’ezrat Hashem. (They both laugh)

Ofek Kelly.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

How do you get along there on your own?

Dikla: Listen, it’s empowering.

Wael: It wasn’t easy for me at the beginning. Only 18 and far from my family. But of course it also has a positive aspect: I learned how to deal with difficult situations, and I am becoming more and more independent as time passes. That’s an experience I think is hard to achieve in Israel, if I’d stayed and gone to university here.

Dikla: I was lucky, because I’d already lived alone abroad for two years. Before university, I worked in shopping booths abroad – a profession that doesn’t add points to the Israeli image.

Wael: We both also live alone.

Dikla: With the amount of material we have, a private space is important. It’s not a good idea to do a dissection if your nerves are frayed.


Yes, we’re just at that stage.

Wael: I want to see other cultures but to return to Israel. I have a family here and want to work here.

What kind of doctors do you want to be?

Wael: I haven’t decided yet, but maybe I’ll follow in my father’s footsteps and be an endocrinologist. I think that’s a broad, interesting profession.

Dikla: That’s a big question. An endocrinologist or an anesthesiologist – if that’s not overdoing it, because an anesthesiologist has a serious job. No operation starts without one, it’s responsibility at a whole other level, and I am a person with very high awareness Let’s see how it goes after we finish our studies.

Are you both sure you’ll stay the course?

Dikla: That’s one of my advantages – I have no hesitations. I’ll stay, for sure.

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened during your studies?

Dikla: The most extreme thing is that we went to the library and there was no room.

Wael: Well, as she said, we’re now working on cadavers, but are about to finish that.

How do you cope with that?

Wael: You don’t treat it like a body.

Dikla: I learn the way someone reads a book. I look at the muscles and the blood vessels, munching something in the meantime. It turns out that I’m not the only one who gets an appetite from it: Meat is meat. So we eat hamburgers with a formaldehyde scent. Not at all criminal, not at all “Dexter”-like.

Ofek Kelly, 16, lives in Har Adar, flying to Brussels

Hello, can I have a peek at the questionnaire you’re filling out? What is this? “The exterior angle of a triangle is equal to the sum of the two non-adjacent interior angles.”

Exactly. Vertices A and B.

Anything is better than trig.

I’m doing five-point matriculation [the highest level] in mathematics, English and physics. People don’t understand how, because I’m in a sports class, too.

Sounds like a lot of pressure.

I have two hours at home between school and training, so I do what needs to be done.

Training in what?

Tae kwon do. I train twice a week in Har Adar, three times in Mevasseret Zion and once in Modi’in. It’s all part of the same club. We’re called the Lions Club, because my head trainer is named Aryeh [which means “lion” in Hebrew].

Sounds more demanding than spherical trigonometry.

I’m on my way to a tae kwon do tournament in Belgium.

That sounds like even more pressure.

Not at all. Obviously it’s hard physically, too, and it’s not easy to train when you have an exam the next day. But I’m alright when it comes to exams; I want to do well in my studies, too. I’ve been competing since I was nine – and I love it. It’s a challenge for me, it’s fun to compete, to give my best. You don’t stop even when it hurts. There’s nowhere to escape to, you have to keep going. Since 2013, I’ve been Israeli youth champion for my age and weight, up to 51 kilograms.

When did you start doing tae kwon do?

When I was 5. I remember thinking that it was a little weird, because all the moves have Korean names. I remember coming back from the first class and asking my mother what “eolgul makki” is. I kept saying the name and we laughed about it. I couldn’t remember what it was. It’s a face block. Soon the national team wanted me to join them and to start training more seriously, and at some point I got into it. I started to compete in tournaments when I was nine – fewer friends, less social fun, more training.

What’s your aim?

My dream is to take part in the Olympic Games. I don’t know if 2020 [in Tokyo] is realistic, but in 2024.

What about the event in Belgium – is a win there realistic?

I feel good, but I don’t know how it will turn out. There’s a tournament in Germany in another three weeks, and the one in Belgium is preparation for that. The tournaments are ranked: The one in Belgium is 1G; the one in Germany, which is the President’s Cup, is 2G and gives double points. If you finish in one of the three top places you can take part in the European championships, which is a really good thing.

What can you expect in the fight itself?

A youth fight is three rounds, each of 90 seconds. Mostly it’s kicking using a special technique that doesn’t exist in other martial arts. We wear a head protector and stomach protector. Everything is electronic. We wear sensors on the socks – when there’s strong enough contact between the sensors, the points go up. Kicking below the belt is not allowed, and there are points for every legal kick. A regular kick to the stomach is one point, and a stomach kick with a spin is three points. A head kick is three points, and the same kick with a spin is four points. Every time you touch the floor, go out of the ring or kick below the belt, you lose half a point. Ten penalties like that is automatic disqualification.

What’s the origin of the method?

I just came back from two weeks in Korea, where tae kwon do was invented. They tore us apart, but it was cool. Five of us went for a training session – I was the youngest. An Uzbek trainer and a Korean trainer went with us from one club to another, every time to a club with a higher ranking, from A to D. The C clubs were at the level where I feel I’m at. In the A clubs, they were at the level of world champions.

What’s been your most challenging bout?

In Serbia, in a G1 tournament. It’s the quarterfinal and if I lose, there’s no medal; if I win I’m in third place. I was up against a strong German rival, who was the favorite in the category. At first I led 9-2. But this was after a whole tournament, so I was tired and he kept cutting the lead. In the end, I recovered and won 15-13.

How do you maintain concentration in a fight?

I don’t think about it, it comes naturally.

So what does take an effort?

Weight. I’m 800 grams over the limit now. We have to lose weight before the tournaments.


Peeing, saunas, running with a coat on. Most tae kwon do people do those things. Last week, I weighed 55 kilos. I’ve just done a week-long diet – I haven’t had a bowel movement for a week, I’m not eating anything.

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