Imagine having the opportunity to live in Israel, while studying in English and making friends with people from all over the world. The Technion International School offers just that. We caught up with three international students from very different walks of life. The four-year program grants a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering.
Chayah Rosenblum, 19, was raised Orthodox in West Hempstead, NY, attended Yeshiva University High School for Girls, where she graduated on the Honor Roll and in the National Honor Society. She just completed her first year at the Technion, and hopes to transfer to the Technion Faculty of Aerospace Engineering when she becomes fluent enough in Hebrew. She made aliyah last summer.
Elda Yitbarek, 18, grew up with a large extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents in Mekelle, Ethiopia, the capital city of the country’s northern region. She wants to be an engineer, but felt that the engineering programs at Ethiopian universities are lacking. Like Chayah, Elda recently finished her first year at the Technion.
Simon Ulka, 23, comes from Quickborn, a small German town near Hamburg. His father founded a tile company, which sparked his interest in construction. Simon just finished the four-year program, where he graduated with a 4.0 GPA and First-Class Honors, a major in Civil Engineering with a focus on Construction Management, and a minor in Environmental Engineering. He is considering becoming a project engineer.
What brought you to the Technion International School?
Chayah: One of the reasons I came to Israel is that it’s a Jewish state, our homeland. I love it. I was already at a seminary in Jerusalem when I realized I wanted to move here. I was going to go to the University of Maryland, but then I got an email that I was accepted to the Technion. I wasn’t sure what time it was in the U.S., but I immediately called my parents. I was so excited.
Elda: Ethiopia is a growing country. We are still building roads and installing trains. We need many engineers. I wanted to do engineering, so I came with my school on a trip to Israel. We visited many universities. The Technion seemed to be friendly and to have the best engineering. I also liked Haifa more than Tel Aviv.
Simon: I was drafted into the German Army and had a choice of doing military service or social service. I had been a youth leader in Germany, so I accepted an offer from Akim Jerusalem (which works with people with intellectual disabilities). I spent the year learning Hebrew and Arabic, getting to know the country, and thought it would be a waste if I left after just one year. So I found the Technion International School online. I started studying civil engineering with the goal of switching to electrical engineering after my first year. But I was having so much fun, I decided not to switch.
How are Israel and Israelis different than the society and people in your country?
Simon: I am not Jewish, but I’ve been to Shabbos dinners in religious communities, and I was surprised how their Friday night dinners are so similar to our traditional German Sunday night dinners. The religious rituals are close to what we do in Germany. Both of us sing. The only difference is the songs. After dinner (in Israel) we play board games. I felt at home. I’ve experienced great hospitality from Jewish citizens and Palestinians.
Chayah: Everyone is friendly but much more pushy in Israel. And I’m starting to fit in. I had to go to the Ministry of Interior, and came early to avoid a long wait. I was 10th in line, but pushed my way up to second so that I could get back to class on time. I would not have done that in the U.S. Also, the culture here is more relaxed, compared to America. People are less concerned about being on time and having things organized. People are more into hanging out and being spontaneous than back home.
Elda: If you think the social life is relaxed here, you should come to Ethiopia. Friends come to my home and stay for days, sometimes weeks. Ethiopians value social connection. Friendships seem to be more intimate than in Israel. Life at home is far less formal than in Israel. Here everything is in its rightful order. There are traffic laws. In Ethiopia, nobody pays attention to whether the light is red or green. If there is no car, you just cross.
What about the academics? How does the teaching and course load compare to universities in your country?
Simon: The Technion is more rigorous but German universities are more open. You are not forced to come to class in Germany, whereas here they take attendance. Classes at the Technion are smaller, so you have close relationships with the professors. You call them by their first name and may even have their phone numbers. Given the rigor at the Technion, professors give you a second chance. If you fail a calculus final and want to retake it, the second one will count. I like that a lot.
Elda: You can’t go to a test and say, ‘Ah, I know this question,’ because the questions on finals and exams are different from what you do in class. It’s not memorization. The professors teach you the basics, then you have to apply it. It triggers you to think. They make you think, and give you time to think. That’s what engineering is. Engineers have to come up with something new.
Given all the cultural and academic differences, what has been your biggest adjustment?
Chayah: I knew there would be people from all over, but I was surprised at how diverse the International School is. My high school was a very sheltered environment, with only Orthodox Jews. It’s interesting to meet people from all over, and to be in a co-ed environment. But I’ve had to adjust to that.
Elda: Settling in was a bit difficult for me, especially in the mechina (preparatory program). I felt very homesick. I missed my friends and family. I didn’t know how to manage money. But the worst of it was that I couldn’t cook. Step-by-step I made friends and then . . . whoosh. . . I started liking it.
Simon: I spent a year in Jerusalem before coming to the Technion, so I was acclimated. It helped that I have three Israeli roommates. I got introduced to the Technion and to the Israeli community by way of my roommates. Many people do not have that privilege. I’ve gotten involved in Israeli life. I was a team leader in charge of designing a concrete canoe (for an engineering and design competition). And this is my third semester in the Technion choir. The climate is warmer here than in Germany, and the people are more warm-hearted.
Have you experienced moments when you said to yourself, “I can’t believe I’m really here!”
Elda: I never thought I’d be visiting Israel at this age, alone, without my family. I’ve never traveled alone. So when I first came I said, ‘I can’t believe it.’ When I’m cooking for myself, again I say, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ Also, our country is landlocked. Whenever I go to the Mediterranean Sea, I just can’t believe what I’m seeing. It’s beyond measure. I like to think of it as a gift.
Chayah: The times that I most appreciate are when I hear people speaking Hebrew, like on a bus. Or when I see streets that are named after Biblical figures or people from Israel’s history (i.e. Jabotinsky Street). At school in the U.S., I learned Hebrew to study the Tanach and also had conversational classes, but not this intense. I’ve become a lot more fluent and I love learning the language. It’s really cool when our teacher makes connections between words with the same root. And it’s so cool to learn physics in Hebrew.
Finally, has your experience at the Technion been transformational?
Elda: I’m learning how to stand on my own two feet. That’s been the most transformational for me. I’ve got to do it at some point, so this is the time. In Israel.
Simon: I’ve been here four years and it has changed me a lot. I’ve become fluent in Hebrew; I don’t remember the last time I had a dream in German. I’m more understanding of the country, and I got to know many other cultures. I’d never met a Nepali person before coming here. So the international community at the Technion has really been great. It’s opened my mind and my eyes. My horizons have really broadened.
I also found my passion for civil engineering. It happened when we took a trip to Tel Aviv for an introductory course in civil engineering. A civil engineer guided us, pointing out each building he had built, and I thought how really nice it wold be to go through a city and say, ‘I built this one.’ To leave my mark.
Chayah: Coming to the Technion has been one of my biggest accomplishments. That I came to Israel by myself. That I’m studying engineering; going forward with my dreams, even though it is challenging to be in a different country far from my family – it has been incredibly transformational. I don’t plan on leaving. There are so many cool things to do. I want to travel more, and I hope I can bring my family here. I really hope to build my life here and have a family.