University of Haifa International School Student Blog
As the first week of classes draws to an end, I’ve been able to reflect upon my time in Israel since my Ulpan experience. I enjoyed and benefited from my Hebrew Ulpan immensely, and couldn’t wait for what was to come during my upcoming semester at the University of Haifa. Before that, however, I had a month-long break. After the rigorous pace of the Ulpan, this break was welcome—I also couldn’t wait to get out and try my Hebrew!
After resting for a few days during which I caught up on my Netflix shows and made travel plans, I decided I would do a bit of solo traveling around Israel. I’d never sightseen on my own before, and was a bit apprehensive. However, it ended up being an extremely beneficial experience where I gained independence, confidence in myself, and ease in meeting new people. I planned to visit the cities of Nazareth and Tiberius. After researching and booking hostels and transport ahead of time, I was on my way. In Nazareth I stayed in a beautiful hostel that had once been a mansion owned by a wealthy Arab-Palestinian family. The granddaughter of the original owner still owned and ran the hostel, and gave a fascinating talk to guests regarding its history. In addition, I was drawn to the hostel because of the free tour of Nazareth it offered. The tour ended up being much more cohesive than I had imagined, and allowed us to explore corners of Nazareth unknown to most visitors.
After sightseeing and taking many pictures (I really recommend the beautiful Basilica of the Annunciation and climbing the steep city neighborhoods to reach great lookout points), I sat down to a wonderful dinner with a German girl I had met at the hostel earlier that day. The next morning, I took the bus to Tiberius.
I’m really glad I chose to visit Nazareth because its charming old city, easy-to-spot sites, and helpful locals made my first solo travel experience manageable and exciting. After this, I was more confident about moving in Israel on my own, and it didn’t seem foreign anymore. Tiberius was very different from Nazareth, but also great. The promenade on the Sea of Galilee was a little worse for the wear, but the breathtaking views of the sea and the Golan Heights were definitely worth the trip.
Soon after I returned from traveling on my own, my parents flew to Israel from Atlanta to visit me for ten days. It was amazing seeing them and acting as a sort of tour guide and translator for their trip. By the end, they were just as taken with Israel as I was and didn’t want to go home. Some of the best parts of our trip included visiting Eilat and the Dead Sea (we all doubted we would actually float), hiking through the magnificent canyons of Petra to view the unbelievable archeological feats of an ancient civilization, and cooking and eating a traditional lunch with a Druze family in Daliyat El Carmel. I was extremely lucky to have had my parents visit me and recommend the same to anyone who can. Israel is not only a great place to study but also perfect for family travel. They really liked that by visiting the University and my dorm they could get a better idea of what my life in Israel was like. Visiting also helped them not worry so much!
I parted with my parents the day before classes began. Even though I already had an idea of what courses I wanted to take, the University offered a convenient weeklong “shopping” period where we could attend any class we wanted to get a feel for it, and decide our final schedule later. Like during my Hebrew Ulpan, the Madrichim organized events for us to meet and befriend the new students just arriving. Because I had been here for the Ulpan, I felt like I knew the ropes and didn’t have to stress about moving in or figuring out where things were which was nice. For me, the Ulpan complements my fall semester really well—because the Ulpan fulfilled my language requirement for my college at home, I have more room in my schedule to take classes the International School offers. Additionally, one of my classes, Bible: The Soul’s Journey to Completion, frequently uses Hebrew translations during in-class interpretations of various biblical passages. After this week, I decided I intend to take all the courses I initially chose during pre-registration. All my professors seem intelligent and engaging, and at least two of my courses should count towards my Religious Studies major credits at my college in the States.
One class I’m particularly looking forward to is Jewish Spirituality. I am not Jewish, and had no idea what to expect. The class is taught by a rabbi and not only involves reading literature about various spiritual practices, but also engaging in the practice during and outside of class, regardless of faith, religious background, etc. This hands-on approach is completely new to me, yet I found myself really enjoying our first class and practice of a mind-quieting meditation technique. I look forward to the semester to come and can’t wait to learn from my professors and the diverse group of students I’ll be studying and sharing experiences with over the next three months.
Atlanta, GA, USA