In today’s internationally connected world, college students are well aware that in order to be globally competitive, an overseas cultural and academic experience, whether it’s for six weeks, a semester or an entire year, is imperative.
For many Jewish students who have visited Israel, whether on a gap year or a 10-day trip, the question is, “Should I study here again?”
New York University is one of the institutions leading this transformation of students into global professionals — a hot commodity, even during these bumpy economic times.
Chris Nicolussi, senior director for students in the Office of Global Programs at NYU, defined the goal of studying abroad as “giving students the opportunity to expand outside of their academic department and to expose them to other cultures.”
While cultural immersion is clearly evident on teen tours to Israel and Taglit Birthright, education may not be the top factor when it comes to choosing a study-abroad site.
Nicolussi said, “A lot of students choose locations based on what they see on television and in the movies.”
And Israel is not portrayed in the media as a cultural giant.
Take Diana Peisach and Eli Kahn.
Both said they consider themselves to have strong ties to Israel, but they opted out of using their study-abroad experience to be in the Jewish state.
Peisach, who recently graduated from the University of Maryland, had been in Israel for two months in 2011 and “felt like that was my study-abroad experience.” While some may view a nonacademic two-month Israel experience as only a glimpse of what would be in store for students living and studying in Israel for an entire semester, Peisach said she “had an incredible and comparable two-month experience in Israel on my own.”
Kahn, who recently graduated from Davidson College, opted to study in Granada, southern Spain and was attracted to this location because of his major — Spanish — and because he “liked the idea of studying somewhere in Europe, where I had the opportunity to travel almost every weekend.”
While students studying in Israel have an opportunity to travel from the Golan to the Negev, Kahn admitted that when considering where to study abroad, “Israel really never came on my radar” because of the minimal opportunity for regional travel.
However, as pointed out by Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, executive director at NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, the experience of studying in Israel “is very different from a summer teen tour because students atIsraeli universities will likely not find themselves in a homogenous group of students.”
Being around Israelis with various religions, cultures and ethnicities affords students an opportunity likely not given on the typical high school teen tour, Birthright or even on a gap-year program. The diversity at Israeli universities is one of the reasons a long-term stay in Israel will always trump a 10-day or month-long Israel trip, Rabbi Sarna said.
“Israel is such a rich, complex and multifaceted country, and in order to appreciate its depth, one must challenge oneself to look at Israel in many different contexts,” Rabbi Sarna said.
Nicolussi said that he thinks studying abroad marries the cultural and academic experience and that students should consider that before making their decision. He also said parents should let their children select where they go on their own.
“Studying abroad,” said Nicolussi, “is a very personal decision.”
Justin Hayet is a former JT intern.