By Stormy Allen
After spending six weeks in Israel this summer, I can still hardly grasp the lasting impact of the experience and the opportunity that I was given to travel and study there.
For several months last year, I toyed with the idea of fitting a Hebrew language course into my school schedule, and even fantasized about learning Hebrew in Israel. The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in it, they say.
I wish I could say that I thoughtfully brought these dreams to fruition and applied to study abroad and for the Stroum Center Opportunity Grant with months to spare, but I have to admit that that wasn’t the case. Rather, one day I came home from school to realize that that day was the deadline for both the Opportunity Grant application AND for study abroad programs in Israel for summer quarter. My heart knew (had known for a while) what I wanted to do, so my writing was confident as I applied that evening to both Tel Aviv University’s Ulpan (beginning immersive Hebrew language course) and to the Stroum Center for their Opportunity Grant. The next thing I remember is my two-day journey to Israel at the beginning of June.
Having traveled solo to a foreign country in the past, I expected to feel the usual combination of anxiety and excitement, but Israel felt different. I spent my first few days in Jerusalem before settling into Tel Aviv and instantly felt the warmth of the city. I remember nervously looking around at all of the signs written in a different alphabet and feeling reassured by the hope that I might be able to read those same signs in the next six weeks of my journey!
Like many things, the beginning of my experience was the toughest. Imagine walking to an 8:30 am class in a typical temperature of 95˚F to have a woman speak Hebrew at you for five hours. I felt like a child learning how to read for the first time, and I looked like one too, as I sounded out every word in slow motion. This did not last forever, of course, because I eventually started to have victories in my memorization and started to read faster.
My improvement didn’t equate to me speaking Hebrew fluently, but it did bring back fond memories from elementary school. Back in third grade, my teacher gave out “Paper Plate Awards” to every student based on their individual abilities. Those who know me personally might guess that I was awarded “Most Talkative,” but that wasn’t until high school, believe it or not. I was awarded “Most Fluent Reader” of my third grade class, and I remember wondering what the word “fluent” even meant. I know what it means now (I promise) and I’m proud to say that I even know how to read, write, and speak a little Hebrew.
All jokes aside, I’m genuinely proud of what I was able to accomplish in my time at Tel Aviv University. Receiving an Opportunity Grant from the Stroum Center helped make this possible. Having the chance to tour Israel, make new friends from around the globe, and visit Jerusalem almost every weekend completed my study abroad experience. Israel feels like a home away from home to me, and I deeply miss the people (stray cats included) and the chance to read those Hebrew signs around me.
Stormy Allen is a senior at the University of Washington majoring in Business Administration and minoring in Jewish Studies and Dance. She intends to work in the actuarial science field after graduation and to continue to travel internationally.
For Further Exploration
- Find out more about applying for Opportunity Grants to fund study abroad or domestic academic experiences related to Jewish Studies. Applications for the next grant cycle are due October 23, 2017.
- Read articles by former winners of Jewish Studies Opportunity Grants, who have traveled to Prague, Jordan, Israel, the Black Sea, and elsewhere.
- Learn more about UW-approved Study Abroad programs.
- Take a Jewish Studies course at UW this autumn.
Wonderful story! I was at the Tel Aviv University ulpan in August, and thought it was great. And imagine–125 years ago, the language you were learning, modern Hebrew, was barely coming into existence!