SUMMERTIME - AND THE LEARNING IS EASY ...
A university does not immediately spring to mind for the majority of people when planning a summer vacation. That, however, was the destination for 191 people from 23 countries who attended the Summer Ulpan run by the Overseas Studies Department. For individuals from North and South America, Australia and Japan, Norway and Greece, and many other European countries in-between, the University of Haifa was the focal point of their summer vacation this year.
Why the Ulpan?
Why do people from all around the globe, from all religions and walks of life, decide to learn a language that is mainly spoken in only one country in the world?
"I was always a hi-flyer, but now I'm a gibbering Hebrew wreck," said one Summer Ulpan student, Scottish-born Dr. Peter Neil. Peter is Director of the Centre for Modern Language Teaching and lecturer in Education at Queen's University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. It was his first visit to Israel and, in fact, his first acquaintance with Jewish people.
"As a Christian, I had always been interested in the Bible and in Israel," the educator continued. "I had no way of learning modern Hebrew in Belfast, as there is now only a very small Jewish community remaining there. On a trip to London, I bought a book, together with tapes, and tried to teach myself. Making no headway, I decided I had to come to Israel and learn the language. I surfed the Internet and found out about ulpan programs.
"The deciding factor for the Haifa University ulpan was that it offered both long and short programs. I only had a limited time, as I needed to return to Belfast by the beginning of September. My work involves teaching teachers of foreign languages.
"I now have a different perspective after sitting in the same position as a student, and it is quite an experience. This is very good for me from two points of view, one of a student learning a new language and the other of perceiving a different teaching method. I can now understand a student who does not have the ability to see things quickly. I had forgotten how it was to be a student, and also this is the first time I have had trouble learning a language. I also understand the difficulty our teacher has teaching a class with such a wide stretch of ability. I am amazed at how enthusiastic and supportive she is. The teaching system is very good. It's interesting for me to see how the lessons are built up."
Focus asked Peter for his impressions of the country and the inevitable comparison with Northern Ireland. His reply: "Coming to Israel from Belfast, where terrorism is a way of life, gave me no worries. I think, though, it is far harder living in Israel, where terrorists have no defined targets and hit the general public at random. My first impression was of surprise to see how secular Israel is. In fact, Haifa is very similar to Belfast. On my first trip to Jerusalem, however, I found that it was just as I had imagined."
Margaret and Jason Borders are from Mississippi. Jason knew some Hebrew from his M.A. studies in Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he studied Modern and Biblical Hebrew as well as Aramaic and Greek. His wife, though, had to take the beginners class. Jason enjoys being thrown into a totally Hebrew environment. "My professor [at Emory] told us that you cannot learn a living language unless you are in the environment," he said, "and I am finding that to be very true. It was frustrating at the beginning because I knew grammar well, but I found my conversational vocabulary terrible."
Margaret had a different concern. "My frustration came from not knowing even one letter of the alphabet," she said. "Although all the other students were beginners, most at least had some knowledge of Hebrew, even if it was only the shape of the letters. But my teacher was very patient and now a month into the course, I feel I have caught up."
The main incentive for the Borders to attend the ulpan was the chance to live in northern Israel. This fall Jason will start a graduate program at the Hebrew University and the couple will be living in Jerusalem. Margaret, who studied medical technology, is hoping to volunteer in a hospital in order to obtain a view of the different health care systems. "Learning the language is the way to interact with the culture and not be passive," she remarked. "I have always been interested in Judaism, as it is our history, as well."
Important to Learn Hebrew
"I feel that it is important for Jews in the Diaspora to learn Hebrew at least at a conversational level. Hebrew is the language of the State of Israel and is part of our
identity." The speaker, Felix Cohen, is from Guatemala City. The South American ulpan student told why he came to Haifa. "I was educated mainly in the United States and graduated from Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri, with a degree in computer science and accounting. After working in the States, I returned to Guatemala, where I am now working in insurance.
"Last year, I decided it was time to learn Hebrew as my knowledge was limited to bar-mitzvah level only. Also Guatemala City only has a small Jewish community, so my Jewish social life is limited. I needed to visit Israel and begin to learn modern conversational Hebrew and meet young Jewish people, both Israelis and from around the world." Felix has family who live near Haifa, and they sent him a brochure about the University.
Impressed with his initial experience, he returned to Israel this summer and is now in an advanced class. "I was glad that I attended the full summer ulpan [2 months] last year," Felix said, "as it took a few weeks before I felt I was making any progress. Unfortunately I only have time for the short ulpan this year. I found it interesting that although I was not able to use my Hebrew conversation in Guatemala, I had improved enough to enter an advanced class."
The Coordinator of Hebrew Language Studies at the Overseas Students Program, Rina Charash, said that this year's Summer Ulpan was the largest since its conception over twenty-five years ago. "The ulpan was just a baby in diapers when I started here in 1975," she said. "This year's intake includes 65 students from Californian universities, which have an agreement with the University. They participate in the two-month intensive Hebrew language ulpan here before attending the Hebrew University."
A separate entity and identity mark another summer ulpan, that for new immigrants. This year, approximately 150 teenage immigrants, mainly from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, attended four Hebrew classes and two English classes. "These courses are necessary to enable immigrants to reach the level required for entering university," Charash explained. "Many of the young immigrants arrived in the country approximately five months ago, without parents. We also have to be prepared to deal with the many social differences and problems that can arise."
Focus continued on its fact-finding mission to locate other long-term visitors on Campus during the summer months.
Summer Law Program
For the third summer running, the Villanova University School of Law, Philadelphia, held its International Law Program Aboard here. Three courses were offered: religion and law, civil liberties, and international trade and business.
A month into the six-week program, Focus spoke to some of the students about the program. For Pamela Solon, who studies at Illinois Institute of Technology's Chicago-Kent College of Law, the deciding factor was that Haifa is the center for her faith. She pointed proudly to fact that "when Professor Gafni learned that I was a Baha'i, he included my religion in the curriculum." Prof. Abraham Gafni, Adjunct Professor of Law at both Villanova University School of Law and Temple University School of Law and a former city court judge in Philadelphia, serves as the Program Director (see Focus, Spring 1995).
For another student, Bet Najjar, it was a chance to experience learning in the environment of her roots. Bet is a Lebanese Christian Arab who now lives in Washington, DC, and attends Villanova. "I majored in religious history at the University of Maryland, so this program really interested me," she said. "I am hearing material that normally you only think about and discuss outside class." Deborah Drukarsh of Toronto, who is studying law at Kingston University in that city, was enthusiatic about all aspects of the program--academic, travel, and discussions. She said she appreciated being able to absorb the culture of the area first-hand and to continue her studies with a new understanding of the area.
Israelis are not excluded from the University during the summer. Three-week-long courses for teaching English as a foreign language took place during July and August. The students, coming from all the Israeli universities and colleges, had a choice of three levels. The courses were held in both the morning and the afternoon. For those interested in learning a new language for their own pleasure, the French Department offered a beginners course for ten weeks, starting in July.
Students studying in the Evening Program during the year had the chance to select from among several courses in the General Studies Department this summer; and for regular degree students, the Jewish History Department offered two summer courses.
For Employees' Children
There are no age boundaries when it comes to attending the University in the summer. For several years, the University's Human Resources Unit has been utilizing areas left unoccupied during the summer vacation. Children of both the academic and administrative staff are able to enjoy free courses in computers, sport, first-aid, and self-defense.
"We feel that this is beneficial to both the child and the parent," said Ms. Pnina Tselner, who works in this Unit. "The children can identify with their parents' work and familiarize themselves with the place where their parents work. At the same time, they meet other children whose parents also work here. Parents, on the other hand, have peace of mind knowing that their children are well looked after, thereby being able to concentrate on their work."
The program is meant for children aged 10-14. "We feel that this is the age that requires these specialized activities," Tselner continued. "Younger children usually go to summer camps and older children like to make their own arrangements."
Hecht Museum Program
A summer course available for all children in the vicinity of Haifa was arranged by the Reuben and Edith Hecht Museum. The week-long summer activity for fifty children, aged 8-12, has been running for several years. "We have to change the course each time, as many of the participants come year after year," said Orit Shapira, Head of the Education Center at the Museum and the program's organizer. "I think that many will become students of archeology later on," she laughed.
This year's subject focused on "Behind the Scenes - in the Museum." The children followed the entire process: from how an item is discovered during a dig to its being placed on display in the museum. The instructors explain how and where different materials were found and the ways in which they are preserved or restored. The children visited University laboratories to see for themselves how this is put into practice. "Hands-on" projects were an important part of the program for the young students.