International students studying at the University of Haifa. Photo by Keren Or

Hollywood depicts the study-abroad experience as either a starting point for a great romance or an international road trip. But just as most people’s college experience bears little resemblance to movies made about campus life, college students enrolled in a study-abroad experience in Israel are more likely to use their time in a more serious and focused fashion.

Justin Levinson from Woodland Hills was drawn to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s (BGU) Medical School for International Health because of the curriculum’s precise ties to his long-term career goals.

"Interviewing Ethiopian and Russian immigrant patients in the morning, followed with evening clinical visits to the Bedouin villages, is an experience in medicine that very few get," Levinson said. "Leaving the comforts of home and trying to make it on your own in a very different environment is a huge personal test. And it makes you realize how much you take for granted in the States, and how much the rest of the world has to offer."

David Siegel, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, explained that "Israel is a global superpower when it comes to [developing technologies] such as water recycling, drip irrigation, desert agriculture, international medicine, environmental science and other things that will inform what careers will be in demand on a global scale."

He points to a 2011 Institute of International Education report, which shows that Israel is now ranked 17th among study-abroad destinations, and the number of American students studying in Israel is up 61 percent from the previous year. Furthermore, the California State University system’s reinstatement of its study abroad program in Israel is just the start of something very big. This year, USC sent a delegation of 100 people and seven deans to sign partner agreements with Israeli schools. UC Irvine Chancellor Michael Drake, meanwhile, returned from Israel with six confirmed study-abroad agreements and another pending.


Awareness, interest and public appreciation for Israel study-abroad programs among Jewish and non-Jewish students received a significant amount of press attention earlier this year when Charles Reed, chancellor of the California State University system, officially lifted the suspension on the CSU Israel Study Abroad Program 10 years after a travel warning was issued by the U.S. State Department in the wake of the Second Intifada.

Although some anti-Israel groups on campus tried to keep the ban in place, Reed ultimately decided students had a right to choose Israel as their base of study for a variety of reasons, according to Leo Van Cleve, director of CSU’s International Programs. He notes the first group of students in a decade will be departing for the University of Haifa this September.

"Just over a year ago, [CSU] did a risk assessment to reinstate our Israel program, basing our research on public information, input from the State Department and Israeli sources, and colleagues in other colleges and universities throughout the United States," Van Cleve said. "Last October, a group of us went to Israel to visit Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, made our report to the chancellor, and by December, based on the findings, he felt it would be appropriate to reinstate the program based on what the University of Haifa offers."

Haifa is Israel’s Silicon Valley, with campuses for Google, Intel, Qualcomm, Cisco, Microsoft and others — a draw for engineering, tech and science students. However, the CSU/University of Haifa program is open to students in a variety of majors, Van Cleve said. The International School’s varied courses taught in English include specialty subjects such as Hebrew and Arabic language and culture, contemporary Israel and Middle East studies, religious and Jewish studies, peace and conflict studies, and more familiar majors (communications, sociology, psychology, political science, law and history), making it inclusive for all students who meet the academic requirements for admission.

"Even in areas of study that seem pretty universal, what will make a difference is that they will receive those lessons and input from a professor and local students with a completely different perspective on current events and a different cultural orientation," Van Cleve said. "This will bring an extra dimension of critical thinking, awareness and understanding to the world they live in."

The program requires a minimum 3.0 grade-point average as well as completion of at least one course in their program that focuses on the contemporary Middle East.

With regard to financing, Van Cleve notes that because students are going to the University of Haifa through the Cal State system, they pay the same tuition that they pay here in California, and CSU aims to keep the cost as close as possible to what it would run for a student to live on one of the Cal State campuses.

The recruitment cycle for 2013 will begin this September.

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