Archive for June, 2012

The growing global demand for engineers, coupled with the Technion’s top-notch faculty, rigorous academics and cutting-edge facilities, has long made the university a magnet for Israeli students. Now, access to a Technion education is increasingly reaching students from around the world, as opportunities to study engineering on the Haifa campus in English are expanding as part of the Technion’s International School of Engineering.

We took a moment to speak with Micael Zollman, a South African student in the Technion’s International School of Engineering. We asked him to tell us a little about himself, why he chose to study at the Technion, and how he is finding life in Israel.

Where are you from? Tell us a little bit about your family, culture and upbringing.

Technion International School of Engineering student Micael Zollman (right).

My name is Micael Zollmann. I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and grew up in a neighbourhood in Johannesburg called Sandton. My mother is originally from a small town in South Africa called Pietersburg while my father is from Antwerp, Belgium. I grew up in a very traditional home where Judaism was a major part of my life. Holidays were always celebrated and Shabbat was, well, Shabbat.

I have a younger brother and a younger sister and I like to think that we’re a fairly tight-knit bunch of siblings.

I attended a Jewish day school my whole life as well as being part of the Bnei Akiva youth movement. I always had a keen interest in mathematics and the sciences but was never sure whether I wanted to pursue these fields in a career orientated manner such as engineering.

When and how did you first hear about the Technion and why did you make the decision to enroll? What other options did you consider?

As a Zionist I tried to participate in as many organized trips to Israel as I could. In January 2009, going into my final year at school (our academic year runs January-November) I flew to Israel on a program organized by the Israeli agency called Israel Encounter. It was on this program that I first visited and saw firsthand the offerings of the brand new international school at the Technion. From that moment I knew that it was the place for me.

At the end of that year I applied to both the Technion as well as the university in Johannesburg. I enrolled at Wits (the univeristy in Johannesburg) as a back-up plan (always good to have one) and waited to hear from the Technion. It’s important to note at this point that the trend in Johannesburg among the Jewish children is to remain in the country and study while living at home rather than studying abroad. One could go so far as to say that a person who decides to study abroad is unique. It’s now 2 years later and I’m on my way to being a half qualified engineer at the end of this academic year.

What was the reaction of your family and friends when you made the decision to come to Israel for your university education?

I grew up in a family that promoted independence. My father left home to go to boarding school abroad when he was very young while his older brother left at an even younger age. My mom left her small town to go to University in the big city of Johannesburg. As a result, independence as a trait amongst my siblings and I, was expected. It’s no surprise then, that I made the decision to leave the comforts of home to study abroad and that my family was extremely supportive (although I am slightly wary of their tremendous support to leave the house. It could have all just been a ploy to get rid of me.)

My friends were quite shocked, considering what I mentioned before about the major trend to stay at home rather than go abroad for university. Yet, knowing that I was going to a world renowned university, as well as the fact that I was going to Israel and not Timbuktu they were extremely supportive. One went so far as to say that I’d be stupid and regret not going for the rest of my life.

Micael speaks to ATS staff at the 2012 Winter Staff Institute in Haifa.

What is the perception of Israel in your home country? Have people in your community ever heard about the Technion or Israel’s advance science and technology industry?

The South African Jewish community is world-famous for being one of the most Zionist, if not the most Zionist and supportive of Israel. I cannot comment on the greater community of S.A. as I don’t know much about their views but I can say that I never had an anti-Semitic experience growing up in the country and Yom Ha’atzmaut was celebrated every year on a massive scale, with the city’s biggest cricket stadium playing host to the festivities for many years. Israel’s perception around the world is not as good as it should be unfortunately, and my friends now tell me that often on university campuses in the country the term ‘apartheid state’ is thrown around tremendously, with student groups formed with a large part of their portfolio dedicated to delegitimising Israel. Yet the Jewish Zionist community continues to prosper and raise powerful, Zionistic and well educated youth.

Everyone is aware of Israel’s contribution and immense capitalization of the global Technology industry although surprisingly amongst both my friends and my parents’ friends a lot had actually never heard of the Technion. Yet, due to its increasingly global image and my introduction a lot more now recognise it and regard it as one of the best.

Now that you are a Technion student, what are your educational goals (include your age, year or study, area of concentration, career goals, biggest challenge academically).
At 20 years old I, along with the rest of the peers in my class, aren’t your average Technion students due to the massive gap in age. Being young I have many dreams. My true passion in life is business. I aim to finish the degree in the allocated time of 4 years. Once graduated I wish to work in the field of civil engineering, probably leaning towards project management, allowing me to eventually rack up the necessary years-worth of work experience to study an MBA at one of the top Universities in the United States. One of the reasons I came to the Technion was to allow me the opportunity of an education which would open doors to the Universities in America that everyone dreams about and I strongly believe that I am on the right path.

Were you prepared for the high-level of education at the Technion? In turn, has the Technion met your expectations?

Micael meets with 2012 ATS Mission to Israel participants during Student Night in Haifa.

This is an interesting question with a rather sad answer. Having attended one of the top private schools in South Africa I believed that the education I was receiving was adequate for studying abroad. I was sadly mistaken. The international school makes every student that enrolls take a 4 month Mechina period in order to ‘refresh’ and ‘revise’ concepts in mathematics and physics before entering the Technion, to make sure that everyone is on the same level. Unfortunately this ‘refresh’ was more like a brutal introduction for me. 70% of the material that was covered in the mathematics portion of the Mechina I had never seen before, while my Italian peers cruised, I had to dedicate 10 times the amount of time to even dream of passing. I truly believe that the teachers at my school are incredible and the fault lies within the syllabus. Nonetheless I came to Technion quite a bit underprepared yet, after an intense Mechina, I was somewhat confident in my abilities.

As for the standard of the Technion, it’s higher than anyone says it is. Many students left after the first year to return home and study in their respective hometowns or home countries. The stories of how much easier the studies are trickle through on a regular basis from those who I am still in touch with. It’s quite remarkable. But I guess it makes sense, you don’t win Nobel Prizes for easy work.

On a personal note, how did you feel when you arrived in Israel? How have you found the people and culture (cuisine)? Has the Technion made it easy for you to adjust?

I had visited Israel plenty of times growing up and having been educated in a Jewish school was well aware of the culture and the chutzpah that came along with it.

Yet, it’s always difficult leaving home on your own and I found that the International School made a wonderful effort in helping me settle in.

Would you consider living in Israel post-graduation? Have your families visited? Do you travel home often? How does it feel when you return home? What do you share with your friends and family?

Concerning staying in Israel, I will cross that bridge when I come to it after my studies are finished. If I were to make a decision now, it would probably be to leave. Israel is an extremely tough place to live, it’s like the classic joke, How do you make a small fortune in Israel? Come with a big one… But again, at the end of my studies I will look at the opportunities on offer and make my decision then.

I see my family every few months. I’m fortunate that,  being a close family, we spend the major Jewish holidays together so they serve as a gathering occasion for all of us, whether it be back home in South Africa, Israel or somewhere else in the world.

Would you recommend this program to others in your home communities?

I have recommended this program to many of my friends back in South Africa and still do on a regular basis. I feel that anyone with a keen interest in mathematics and physics or anyone wanting to study engineering would be stupid to pass up the opportunity of studying in such a well recognized institution.

To end, I am extremely happy with my decision to study at the Technion. The amount I’ve learnt, excluding the studies, has been astronomical; skills and knowledge I know my friends in South Africa will only gain in six years when they possibly get married and at which time they move out of home. I do hope that finishing at the Technion will open many doors, namely in America where I, as aforementioned, would like to pursue a business orientated post graduate degree before embarking on a business orientated career.


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