Category Archives: Hebrew University

A Prized Possession

This article was posted on the MASA Israel Blog on Sept 7th 2010.

When I made my decision to study abroad at the Rothberg International School of Hebrew University, my home university, McGill, required me to attend a pre-departure lecture. At this lecture, they informed us of the basic protocol to arrange a study abroad program. Health tips, packing advice and room accommodations were all reinforced throughout the lecture. It was one thing, however, that stuck with me: You are embarking on a trip that not many students take, and that all students treasure. Keep a journal and record everything you do, see, learn and feel.

It sounds simple enough but it was only once I was actually in Israel that I realized how important this tip was. Even for a girl who loves writing, keeping a daily journal was difficult. I tried to record all the adventures and trips I went on, the people I met and attempted to evaluate my feelings. But time flies, as it always does, and as I settled into a routine, I wrote less often until I was writing weekly or monthly.

I may not have as many entries as I would like, but I do have something. I have an account of my journey and more importantly, of everything I learned. I have a story to tell and proof that my semester was valuable. When I meet future employers, I can easily look up the skills I used and the experiences I had and explain how they will benefit their organization. I studied in a foreign country for five months, met friends from all over the world and learned how to live with strangers – now my close friends. The ability to plant yourself in any situation, and feel comfortable, is a skill employers treasure. Proving I can master another language is also a great asset.

When I continue my studies, I have a record of the things I learned and the people I met along the way – people who will become important contacts in my future career and education. One of my professors told me to contact him if I need a reference for graduate school. Among many of his impressive jobs, he once worked in the Ministry of Finance and in financial companies in the US. Another professor told me to always keep in touch. A knowledgeable and well-respected person, who works in Israeli politics, is another great contact for me – a Political Science student. A friend of a friend who I met works at a top newspaper in Israel and offered to help me break into journalism in the future. While researching possible fall internships, I came across a great program in Montreal. It turned out the program has offices all around the world and one of them was in Israel. I met the coordinator for coffee to discuss my future possibilities.

Most importantly, when the memories fade, and years pass, and I ask myself did I really just see a six year old helping his two year old off the bus? Did those two old ladies really just physically fight for a seat on the bus? And is my bus really stopping right in the middle of a highway? I’ll have the blog posts and the journal that reminds me it happened.

Studying abroad can benefit your education, your career and most importantly – yourself.

This article was published in The Canadian Jewish News. and posted on TalentEgg’s online magazine, The Career Incubator.

When I decided to study abroad last year, I knew that the decision would open new doors for me, academically and personally. But I never really imagined the impact it might have on my life.

As a third year student at the University of McGill, I knew that although I loved Montreal and the educational institute I was in, I needed a change. I felt that to truly benefit my education, it would be in my own best interest to take time to learn things from a different perspective – a new perspective.

As a political science student, I focused on international relations and my search for an exciting place to study led me to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. With a fantastic reputation and great incentives, I completed the long application form with just a couple months to spare before the term began. In early December, I received my acceptance letter, booked a flight to Israel, and left for a new experience.

Studying abroad is a new phenomenon among university students. A Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) study indicated that “91% of employers (interviewed) identified the importance of cultural and other benefits (from study abroad).” Learning a new language, living in a different culture, becoming more independent and self-sufficient are only a few of the skills students learn, and bring back, to their home university.

Abby Plener, an English Literature major at McGill University, spent a semester at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. “My semester abroad taught me a lot – probably more than I will ever realize or could even begin to process now,” she said. Employers and academics are remarking the importance of studying abroad in allowing students to have a well-rounded education.

Thevi Pather, Associate Director at Camosun College, said “After 15 years of work in International Education, it never ceases to amaze me when I see the profound changes that occur in a student after their return from a study abroad experience. Many leave our shores with nervous excitement, but very visible fear of the unknown. Most students return brimming with confidence, and ready to tackle the next big challenge in their young lives.”

Researchers are now even attributing an improved academic performance after students return to their home campus from studying abroad according to an in-depth analysis on study abroad headed by the Georgia Learning Outcome of Students Studying Abroad Research Initiative (GLOSSARI).

Eden Sagman, a McGill graduate who now works in the high-tech industry in Israel, where she spent a year studying abroad in 2008, said her program has helped her break into the business she always dreamed of working in. “Studying abroad enhanced my education. It opened my eyes to other perspectives about controversial issues,” she said. Learning about new cultures is key to a flourishing economy, which needs new ideas to breed entrepreneurship and start-up companies.

Although studying abroad has been seen as beneficial, it can be difficult to arrange. Picking a school, approving courses, planning a budget and often enduring a longer semester are all part of the difficulties of studying abroad. You can look forward to meeting with ten professors just to get one course approved, and once you return, you have to ensure all your information is received in a timely fashion. However, don’t let this bureaucracy hold you back. Studying abroad helped me realize so much about myself that I never would have discovered. I learned to be independent in a foreign country, navigate across cities and met incredible people along the way. And I know next semester, my education will have benefited because of it.

“While at UCT, I often got the question, ‘Why are you studying here? The universities are so much better in North America.’ In general, studying abroad made me reflect a lot on the degree to which Western countries have a monopoly over education – defining the standards of what is “good” education, how the university system should work, what we value in or educational institutions, and even the texts and authors we focus on,” Plener said.

There are so many other viewpoints out there – and studying abroad makes us question everything we’re learning, and helps us become better people. We learn to always strive to demand the best out of educations and ourselves.

The return to the not-so-holy land

So a few weeks ago, I returned to Canada from my five month voyage to Israel (and a brief stop in Zurich, Switzerland). I already miss the language, hearing little kids speak hebrew, the great food, the sensuous smells, the chaos and the holiness. But being home has its comforts too – its nice to host others, rather than always being hosted and its great to continue my ‘real’ life, get excited for the summer and start my great internship.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve realized that it’s hard to remember everything you learned abroad. It’s easy to forget you spent five months in another country, learning and growing from others around you. What I’ve learned is that all the answers I thought I would have by now don’t exist. I’ve learned that I have more questions – about the Arab-Israeli conflict, about the future of Israel, about the value of education and about the possibility of world travel and new experiences. I may not have all the answers, but I feel I have gained from my time abroad, enough to know that those experiences were valuable and necessary for my education. And when I bring them back to my final year of my undergraduate study program, I know I can make a meaningful contribution to my academic career and the educational institute I will be in.

Holocaust Memorial Day – Yom Hashoah

Last week, we were privileged to attend a Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) ceremony at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. After making it through three different rounds of security (bag checks, answering questions, more bag checks and the new check to detect any chemical residues on our hands in the last 24 hours), we arrived at Yad Vashem. The ceremony was outdoors with thousands of people from all over the world sitting together, watching this historic, heart-wrenching event. A memorial candle was lit by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council.

The President of Israel, Shimon Peres, also delivered a speech (in quite difficult Hebrew, that actually required us to put in our translator headphones). He said that the victims of the Holocaust later became the state builders of Israel and for that, and so much more, we will always remember their legacy. There are two imperatives, he said, we must always remember: we must maintain our Jewish state, and build up our defense strongly, and we must take seriously threats of annihilation, like those coming from Iran. We can never allow a regime to stand forth and declare that their race or religion is superior – it is our responsibility to ensure no regime can ever do so again. He then turned to a Holocaust survivor sitting next to him and said, “Jewish history salutes you.” He concluded with a powerful statement: No other nation has been beaten like the Jews, and no other nation has rebounded like the Jews.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu also delivered a moving speech, which we were mostly able to understand in Hebrew. We are all sitting there today because, before their deaths, the Holocaust victims and heroes begged us never to forget them, to tell their stories. It was ironic, that after a week of beautiful weather, that night it was freezing cold. The wind was so strong and since many of us did not know we would need jackets, we sat shivering in our seats. Perhaps we were supposed to understand a tiny taste of what it is like to sit in cold, windy weather without any means of comfort (of course, ours was on a minuscule level, but I believe that any way we can learn to connect our lives with the Holocaust survivors is important, because by making these connections, we ensure we do not forget them). PM Netanyahu asked us: from ashes and dust, Israel came about. Did we learn anything from their sacrifices? We learned, and we must continue to learn, three important lessons:

a. To protect the good and fight against the bad. In every generation, there are those who stand against us, but we must ensure that every person has a right to live and have his freedoms protected. It is our job to ensure that the Nazi ideology never succeeds. We must ask ourselves: what values are we raising our children with? What are we doing to fight our enemies?

b. There is a limit to how much we can be patient and kind, there is a limit to the values of understanding we must preach. Because we cannot let our desire to teach understanding and patience overrule our necessity to defend our state.

c. We can never be silent when faced with evil, and that is why PM Netanyahu called on the UN and all other states to recognize the Iranian threat and stand against it.

He ended with saying that we did not get here by accident. We are here because it is our land and we must protect it.

The next day, on the cover of many newspapers, were these words: להילחם ברע וחנך לטוב – to fight against evil and educate for the good. And I had the privilege to hear these words straight from the Prime Minister himself. That is the beauty of this study abroad program – instead of reading books and newspapers, we partake in history ourselves.

The Life of an Israeli Student

Things have been so hectic here that it’s been hard to find time to just sit back and relax. I know once this week passes, we will have more time to enjoy our ‘free time’ and start touring Israel.

Our ulpan classes started on Sunday and we now have school from 8:30-1:15 every day. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it is definitely a big adjustment. At McGill, the longest course I’ve ever had was only 2 hours long so getting used to 4 hour ulpan classes has been difficult. I am also not used to waking up so early – we have to leave our apartment by 8 am (it’s about a twenty minute walk) if we want to get to class on time. The ulpan classes are also more like high school classes than university ones – we have daily homework, weekly tests, we do work in class and the teacher actually checks the answers.

Besides from ulpan, I wish I could say I’ve been spending my afternoons doing very exciting things. But so far, we’ve been running around Jerusalem picking up things we need for our apartment, buying groceries, and learning about the area. So it’s been a lot of shlepping things up the hill to our dorms. Lucky for us, nice boys have kindly offered to help us carry our groceries or we would never have been able to make it back.

I’ve been trying to appreciate how lucky I am to study in Jerusalem. As I write this, I am staring out my classroom window, overlooking a view of Jerusalem (and the Arab village right next to us) – a much better view than the couchetard on Stanley. Our campus also has a beautiful botanical garden that we walked through yesterday (not exactly on purpose – we were looking for a cafeteria and ended up getting lost). It’s amazing to think that everything I can see and touch are thousands of years old.

I’m also starting to get used to showing my ID, having my bags checked and walking through a metal detector as I enter school. It makes McGill’s two security guards seem amateurish.

I’m hoping as we finish running errands we can start to really tour the vast campus and start visiting interesting sites in Israel. For now, I’m off to my Latin Aerobics class.