'Teachers Tell Me, Forget Medicine, Be a Cop Instead'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A Ukrainian teen who's a big fan of Israel ponders her future, and an American artist explains why she left paradise

Zhenya Godik.
Meged Gozani

Zhenya Godik, 15, lives in Kiev and flying there

Hello, can I ask what you were doing in Israel?

I came with my mother to visit my grandfather and grandmother, who live in Rehovot. My mother, who is Jewish, is an intensive care doctor who was here for a two-week training course. Medicine in Israel is much more advanced than in Ukraine, so she has a lot to learn. I came on vacation; it’s about my 20th trip here.

An honorary citizen.

I really love Israel – the food, the sea. I think I pretty much like it all. I’m learning Hebrew, but it’s hard going, and after high school I’d like to come to Israel to study.

Do you already know what?

The thing I want most is to be a doctor. My father is a doctor, too. He’s a surgeon who works with children, so I would very much like to be a pediatrician. That’s why I have a tattoo of a heart on my hand. A real heart, not the shape of a heart. The truth is I’m a little scared right now, this is my first flight alone.

That really is a bit stressful.

I’m not really too worried, I’ll be all right. I’ve already flown alone to Israel – not actually alone, but without my parents. I was here at a summer camp last August, and I arrived and returned with friends. I came on a program called “makom.il,” which I’ve done already three times. Children from all over the world come and live together for 10 days in a sort of dorm setting. I met really nice people, and I’m still in touch with kids from Israel and also some from Kiev.

What do you do in Kiev?

I’m a high-school student. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult for me, but generally everything is okay. I spend a lot of time in school, but I also do other things, mainly competitive swimming. I swim three times a week and also go to a gym to build myself up.

What are your specialties?

Fifty-meter butterfly or crawl. I’ve been training for nine years. I started in the first grade and have won a few medals. In my first competition, I was the youngest person, the only one who was 6, and I won the gold. I’m sure I could swim even better, but I want to be a doctor, not a professional swimmer. Swimming is something I do mainly for my health more than anything else.

It’s also stressful to compete.

I’m not afraid of the competition; it’s a matter of priorities. I don’t have enough time to swim and compete seriously. I’m learning Hebrew, and in school I also really like biology. Besides that, I’m devoting a lot of time to studying English, because in another two years I have an important exam that I want to pass.

Just one?

In high school in Kiev you study between nine and 11 different subjects, but at the end there are only three exams you have to pass: Ukrainian, mathematics and English or history. If you want to go to university, there’s also a fourth exam. I can choose biology or physics, and I prefer biology. Of course, to get into medical school you need high grades; some universities demand especially high ones.

Are grades important to you?

It’s important for me to have good grades, but for my family the grades are less important. They always tell me that my health and psychological welfare are far more important to them. They care a lot more about the neurons in my brain behaving normally. The teachers at school also don’t necessarily push us to study, definitely not medicine.

Do you know why?

It’s hard to get into medicine and you have to study six years and then intern. Some teachers said, “What do you need that for? Be a policewoman or a journalist.”

Hmm, I’m not sure about that last recommendation. What do you do for fun?

For fun I go to the movies with girlfriends, or play with my animals. I have a dog, a parrot and a chameleon.

A chameleon as a pet?

The chameleon is cute, but I’m not sure it recognizes me.

Brittany Bivens.
Meged Gozani

Brittany Bivens, 31, lives in St. Simons Island, Georgia, U.S.; arriving from Athens

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Israel?

I’m here for a family wedding in Haifa, and then I'm going to the Netherlands. I’ve been traveling for four weeks.

Where have you been?

I was in the Netherlands visiting my sister, and then Greece. I needed a little sea and sun. I’ve had a really terrific trip, only I wish I had less stuff with me. I needed to shop for the wedding.

What do you do?

I’m a painter and a dancer, and I work in my stepmother’s women’s health center.

It’s not easy for people involved in women’s health these days in Georgia.

Yes, abortions aren’t legal there. If you’re a state resident, and you have an abortion, even in a state where it is legal, you can still end up in jail. It’s also like that in Alabama and in other southern states. It’s the same old story – white men supervising the bodies of women. I run a program mainly for menopausal women.

Recommendations?

We have an eight-week program where you first do a ketogenic diet. No carbs, because sugar is, like, the No. 1 drug. The diet gives one balance and is good for the brain and the hormones. I’m doing it myself, but it’s hard to keep it up on a trip. It’s okay to “celebrate” 10 percent of the time, but on this trip I’ve been celebrating about 50 percent. You have to enjoy life, too.

It’s not easy to give up the croissants.

I was so happy to land in Europe – they have such great croissants and coffee. But there you go: I just bought a chocolate croissant here and that was a truly bad choice. Detoxing isn’t just a nutrition thing; it’s a spiritual and mental journey.

“Spiritual journey” sounds oppressive.

During the first two weeks of detox, the women get incredibly irritable with me, but by the sixth week they say I’m terrific. I learned not to do my own detox at the same time, because then everyone is in crisis.

What’s it like working with a stepmother?

It’s not easy, but we’ve found a balance. Most of my family aren’t typical Americans, they travel abroad; my sister is going to school in the Netherlands. But there are also a few rednecks. Before I came over here, they asked me, “What do you want to go abroad for? We’ve got everything we need right here.”

Do you travel a lot?

Yes, and I lived in Hawaii for 10 years. I had all kinds of jobs and learned hula dancing for seven and a half years.

I didn’t know it takes time, I thought you just wiggled your hips.

Hula is part of the oral tradition of the Hawaiians, and the means for telling their history. At one time, only men were allowed to dance the hula. Besides dancing and praying, you make the traditional costumes.

How did you end up in Hawaii?

I realized that I went to college for my parents and would be better off getting life experiences. A friend was going to Maui, so I said I’d join her for two weeks. After we’d reserved round-trip tickets, the airline went bankrupt. I saw that as a sign and ended up buying a one-way ticket.

And stayed.

Eventually I felt that my life was stagnating; I was working in real estate and hated it. After everything I had studied, I was selling property in Hawaii? It’s a place of healing but I didn’t feel good there. I had a problem with my sense of self and my fear of failure, I would change plans the minute a man entered my life. I felt unworthy because of my age, my looks, my knowledge. Then I said to myself, “Let’s get rid of this negative witch,” it’s time for a change.

And things are better now?

Back in Georgia, I freaked out: “What have I done with my life, I was in paradise.” I love my family, but they drive me crazy. It took me time to understand that they were holding up an inner mirror to me and that I had things to learn from seeing them again. It helps me a lot when I feel I’m doing something meaningful, when the people I treat say they feel better than before, or when they have sex for the first time in years. It’s very rewarding.