Every Student Has A Story

University of Haifa International School Student Blog

My First Day of Hebrew Ulpan

My day was long and exhausting. I went to sleep at 9:30, and decided that I would complete my homework the following morning because my brain was simply not operational.

I reported to my first Hebrew class, which ran from 8:30-2:00. I am in level three, in a range from 2-12. When I started class, I was completely Hebrew illiterate. People in my class mostly have a knowledge of the alphabet, which I was largely ignorant to my entire life. My teacher, Rudy, who is lovely, nice, and patient with a heavy Israeli accent, was able to pronounce my name the easiest in the classroom. What a delightful change from what I’m used to in the United States. I feel spoiled here.

We began the class with two questions that I immediately confused and forgot the meanings of: What is your name? and Where are you from? I am the type of student that needs one new thing introduced to me and practiced three times before I can move on to a new lesson. I felt overwhelmed by the immersion into conversation, and felt bad about not being able to converse with my partners so well because I just could not think of any questions to ask them. This was partially because my brain was half-shut off from returning to my dorm at 3 AM after swimming at the beach. No regrets, but I just felt like hell. We learned the alphabet, or kind of, in my case, and began reading and writing in just a matter of hours. This truly is an intensive program. I am still on summer vacation mode, and not yet ready to return to a semester-style mindset. In truth, I am not completely here to learn Hebrew, although I would love love love to be able to do that. I am mainly in Israel to experience life in this country and learn of the culture. However, in order to do that to the best of my ability, I should learn the language. I feel resistant at times to having to learn Hebrew because it is a challenge that I have avoided my entire life. I think we have it too easy in the United States. We are complacent with being uni-lingual, which is equivalent to having your brain in a comatose.

After managing to stay lucid throughout the ulpan class, I ran and bought my new Hebrew book and returned to my dorm before heading out for the tour of Haifa. First, we visited the Baha’i gardens, which I had been waiting to do for months. However, when we arrived, they told me I needed to cover my shoulders, which really meant chest, because it is a holy site. Unlike the Western Wall, which provided covers for visitors, the guards did not offer an alternative for those who were not dressed “properly.” I was lucky, in that another ulpan participant offered me her scarf, and I was allowed in, after the guard was still not satisfied with how I wrapped my scarf. I am becoming really resentful towards these clothing rules here. It is not about religious observance. I am not distracting anyone from god or their beliefs with my body. If I am, then that is by their own doing. It is ridiculous to force females to cover themselves because others might be tempted to drift their thoughts away from holiness.

The garden was beautiful, we snapped a few pictures, and then we left. We left the comfort of the air conditioned bus to stand by the Stella Maris Church. I was out of earshot to hear what Keren and Tomer (madrichim) were saying about the location, but it had something to do with Christianity, monks (?), Napoleon, and standing on a mass grave. We then walked across the street to a cliffside that had a beautiful blue domed building at the water’s edge.

Afterwards, we stopped at the shuk, or market, where we had forty minutes to wander around and get groceries. My friends and I were hungry, so we went on a hunt for felafel, and found a vendor who took a while to make them fresh. The wait in the heat was worth it—the felafel was AMAZING. So fresh, and fried to perfection. I bought several peaches (which I ate for breakfast and lunch this morning, delish), as well as a good amount of pitted prunes. I also sampled the most perfect date I have ever eaten. How is the food here so perfect?

Our last stop on the tour was of the German Colony, which had a great amount of street art displayed throughout. The people in the area were so friendly. A small group of unsupervised girls waved at me and said hello. I love that Israeli kids can just hang out on the streets without helicopter parents, even with all of the scary security issues that surround the country. We passed by the most delicious-looking dessert store that I had to make great efforts to keep myself out of. I’ve been eating a lot of carbs here as an easy way of not starving here, but I’m afraid it’s about to catch up with me. On Friday, Becky and I are going to get memberships to the gym, which will be good, because I can’t get much exercise from walking around campus mid-day because it is so hot. Plus, the Israeli women here have such toned arms. Since I’m half-Israeli, I have to live up to the standard.

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