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  • Thrive Study Abroad

Let’s get serious about….Ulpan in Israel

When you first thought about spending a semester in Israel, you probably had no idea what chavaya meant, and you sure didn’t anticipate a month long immersive Hebrew language course as part of it. Hang on for some fun facts about Hebrew and how it will transform your semester:

  1. The entire land of Israel is biblical and so is it’s language, Hebrew. But, just as the land has been modernized, so too has its language.

  2. In fact, the revival of Hebrew as a modern spoken language is unique - you’ll be using the only language in the history of the world that has been in existence for centuries and then resurrected as the official language of modern day Israel.

  3. Eliezer Ben Yehuda (of Ben Yehuda Street fame) is responsible for revitalizing modern Hebrew in the 1880s and wrote the first Hebrew dictionary.

Ulpan - which means “instruction” - was introduced in Jerusalem in 1949, right after the establishment of the State of Israel. Mandatory Ulpan for all new immigrants helped build the new country, unifying a burgeoning population with one common language. It was, and continues to be, a brilliant idea that helped achieve enormous economic and social expansion for this small country. Today, more than 9 million people speak Hebrew throughout the world.

As students on semester abroad programs, you, too, are required to take Ulpan. While there are hundreds of different Ulpanim throughout the country, yours will be tailor made for your semester experience. You’ll take it through your university. Typically it will start the month before your semester begins. Your first Chavaya in Israel will be a 4 week intense “ivrit b’ivrit” experience. You’ll take a placement exam to establish how much Hebrew you already know. Whether all you know is the rudimentary shalom, b’seder (okay), or l’hitraot(see you later), or an actual conversation, you’ll be placed appropriately for your level of knowledge. Every morning from 9 until 12:30, you’ll immerse yourself in new vocabulary and conversation that will make you crazy. But when you start to use that new vocabulary on the streets, in stores, on the buses, or in taxis, you’ll feel like you’ve earned those college credits!

So what’s the chavaya? Chavaya means “experience,” but, like many Hebrew words, it incorporates so much more in the meaning. Chavaya really connotes an incredible experience that you don’t want to miss. There are so many things in Israel you won’t want to miss, and Ulpan is one of them. You’re learning a language but also a culture. You may dread the daily grind of a 3 ½ hour class dedicated to a language with male and female tenses attached to 3 letter root words, but you’ll also get the slang, and therefore the hang of it so much faster. Many words are taken from other languages(Sababa (cool) or Yalla (let’s go) both from Arabic) and many are English with an Israeli accent (Academia for Academy; Internet, radio, bye or hey) ( ). Israelis welcome the opportunity to practise their English on you, but they’ll respect you more if you break your teeth trying to speak their special, home grown language!! Hatzlacha (Good luck)!!

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