By: Gila Harris
I was the biggest homebody. I had lived in the same house my entire life. The thought of making Aliyah – leaving the comfort of my childhood home in Plainview, New York – and living and studying at Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem was terrifying to me. Yet at age 26, that is what exactly I did. I said goodbye to my home, my brothers, my parents, and my adorable cat, Oliver, and made Aliyah.
On my first day at Ulpan Etzion, after getting a little lost in the hallways, I turned to the first person I saw and awkwardly muttered in Hebrew, “Cheder Ochel?” (thanks, Camp Moshava!) The guy, whom I later found out only spoke French, understood my Hebrew and, with a smile, walked me to the lunch room.
So began my incredible five-month experience at Ulpan Etzion. Before I knew it, though, my Hebrew improved, and I found amazing friends, which helped me integrate into life in Israel.
Learning from the experiences of others is a great way to prepare yourself for your own Aliyah.
Here are eight things you should know about life at Ulpan Etzion:
- How Much It Costs
Ulpan is highly subsidized for new Olim. I paid around NIS 7,500 for five months of board and lunch/dinner every day.
- The Dorms
Every room at the Ulpan is a little different and has its own charm. In my dorm we had a kitchenette, a bedroom for two people and a living room where two others slept as well. Some rooms have a bedroom that will only fit one person and others do not have a living area. The dorms are outfitted with large closets but the amount of closet space you have is dependent on your room.
- Your Roommates
If you have someone in mind you would like to share a room with, you can put in a request for a specific person. I knew one of my roommates before Ulpan and my other roommate found me on Facebook and quickly messaged me to see if we would make good roommates. After the awkward “Shidduch” dating type of questions, we decided to room together. If you don’t have a request for a roommate, the Ulpan will usually make a match based on language and religious background. If, for whatever reason, you do not like your roommates, there is the option of switching rooms. However, it is not always so easy/
Ulpan Etzion offers amazing resources. First, a job coach comes into Ulpan Etzion every couple of months to speak with each student individually and assist them in finding a job post-Ulpan.
Ulpan Etzion also has an amazing social worker on staff who is approachable and always there to guide you. She is an amazing resource!
Extra-curricular classes are offered by the students themselves. Depending on their specialties, we had dance, self-defense classes, among others.
- Of Course – You Really Want to Know About the WiFi
There is WiFi in the lobby. If your dorm room happens to be close to the lobby, there is a chance that you will be able to use the WiFi from your room. WiFi is not provided in the dorm rooms. Many people decide to purchase their own WiFi and split the cost with their roommates.
- The Classes
On the first day at Ulpan we had to take a written Hebrew fluency test. We were also given a separate oral test (make sure to bring a book because you often have to wait on line…). A day or two later we were assigned to our classes.
On our first day of class there was the classic ice breaker game. We didn’t really understand each other because everyone spoke different languages. We had to play a game of Human Bingo and it was very challenging to ask the Russian man sitting next to me if he had read all seven Harry Potter books.
What does an average day look like? Class begins at 8 am and ends at around 12:30 pm, followed by lunch. You are then free to do whatever you would like for the rest of the afternoon. Occasionally we would be taken out on a trip.
After the start of formal classes, we had tests every week or two. We had homework almost every night, but if you get a group together from your class and do the homework together, it can be fun. Well almost.
- The Food
Given that I love airplane food, many distrust my culinary judgement. I can eat chicken for breakfast, lunch and dinner and have the biggest smile on my face.
Ulpan Etzion provides both lunch and dinner. Lunch is almost always a meat meal while dinner is usually dairy. Lunch usually consists of schnitzel, something that vaguely resembles meat, a vegetarian option, soup, salad and vegetables. My personal favorite was the rice they used to serve. There is always a lot of hummus and I am a firm believer that even the most repulsive meal can be salvageable if you drown it with enough hummus!
Dinners are usually lighter. We usually ate either borekas, eggs (you can request for them to be sunny side up!), malawah, cereals, and it was almost always served with salads and vegetables. The Ulpan food was not bad. Trust me – once Ulpan is over, you will miss having someone to cook for you!
- The People
People from all over the world choose to attend Ulpan Etzion – it is one of the biggest Ulpanim in the country. It is a culturally eye-opening experience. My class was made up of people from France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Russia, and India. There are so many new people to meet – you are bound to make a friend or two! You may even meet your spouse during orientation on the first day….I know I did!