Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Back to School, Back to School

             You know that dream we all have where you are sitting in class, about to take a test, and you completely blank on everything? Including your name and how to correctly hold a pencil? Usually, these dreams peter out over time, as we move further from our school days, but I'd estimate I still have them 3-4 times a year. That is 3-4 mornings where I wake up in a cold sweat, wondering why in the world I signed up for physics when I barely passed chemistry! Then I calm myself down, put on my grown-up clothes, and drive my grown-up car to my grown-up job. I have been done with school for many years, and always assumed I was done forever. But now I'm back!
             I haven't gone back to college or university or trade school or anything (although I'm looking into becoming an electrician- those guys make a fortune here!). I am spending the next 5 months in an Ulpan program, where I will intensively study Hebrew language, 5 days a week, 5 hours a day. My goal is to become fluent, or at least on the road to fluency. It kills me that after being in Israel a million times, spending 12 years in Jewish schools and a tremendous amount of time with Israelis, I am essentially at a 6 year old level, at least grammatically. And if you know me, you know that I take grammar seriously. So I signed up for this program, where my classes are free and my living expenses are subsidized (more on that in my next post- lots to say about my new accommodations!) 
             I haven't really moved in yet but I got to the ulpan yesterday to speak to an administrator about some informational stuff I needed. Little did I know that I was late for an orientation! People may joke that I am late to meet them ("In the car! On the highway! Traffic!") but for the first day of school? I am Swiss-precision, generally. So I get to the ulpan and see a gaggle of Israeli staff, informing the new students of various rules, requirements and factoids. So I stood outside, like an interloper rather than an actual student, and listened to one teacher after another take a crack at a "Hebrish" (Hebrew+English hybrid) introduction. 
            After the intros, I realized that I was wholly and completely unprepared to start classes. I didn't have my passport photos on me, or my teudat oleh, I hadn't gotten my student card, and I was apparently late to take my placement test. Have you ever had your nightmare actually come true, almost to the letter?! So I begged apologies, promised I'd have everything ready by class time, wrote down all the information I was given (pro tip- teachers love when you take notes) and headed over to take my Hebrew test.
           If you are reading this and you don't know me well, you should be aware of 2 facts about me: 1) I need to excel at my studies, or else I get anxious and 2) I will do the absolute minimal amount of work/studying to accomplish this. This is why this test was really up my alley. There was no studying required, and I think I did pretty well. There was a multiple choice section, basically focusing on you spoken- grammar knowledge, a written section (where I wrote a 4th grade-level paragraph about my first day in Israel post aliyah) and a short conversation with 2 of the most Israeli-type Israeli ladies I've ever met. At the end of it, they told me I spoke "very nicely" and I just about floated out of there. 
           Another interesting part of testing day was meeting the other students. There are both internal (living at the ulpan) and external (living on your own) students and we hail from all over the world. And by all over the world, I mean France. I'm kidding, but also not. There are a load of French Jews fleeing France right now, and I totally get it. As an American, you move to Israel, where most of the people you know here are also American olim (okay, maybe Canadians too) and you assume that everyone in your ulpan will be American, though hopefully not New Yorkers. I'm hoping I fill the New Yorker quota. But the reality is, I was one of the only English speakers! There were French, Italians, Latinos, Russians ("wherever ya go, there's always someone Jewish!") but basically just me and a few Brits speaking the Queen's language. So I essentially just spoke to them for now, biding my time until both myself and the others can all have beautiful and meaningful conversation together- in Hebrew!
           As soon as I know my class level results, I'll pass them along, in addition to a detailed post about my impressions of my new home base here in Jerusalem. Until then- shalom, chaverim! (Goodbye, friends!)

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