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During the 1970s and 1980s — and even before then — most North American students who came to Israel on a study abroad program were looking for a connection to their heritage. The majority of the students participating in these programs were Jewish, or looking for a Jewish connection. As a result, most of the university programs were designed to fulfill this need.
These study abroad programs offered courses primarily related to Israeli history and culture, Jewish history, culture and identity, and the study of Hebrew. The programs offered by the Rothberg School at the Hebrew University and by Tel Aviv University fit this classic description of Study Abroad in Israel.
At that time, the University of Haifa International School was one of the few programs that offered an alternative. It attracted non-Jewish students, as well as Jewish students who were looking for something other than a “Jewish experience” in Israel.
Today’s Millennial students (Generation Y) are a more discerning group. Their reasons for coming to study in Israel and the goals they are trying to achieve are quite different from those students in previous years.
Today’s student is more demanding as to the type of experience he or she expects and what their requirements are to make that happen. The student coming to Israel today is looking for more than a connection to his or her heritage; often, the student is not Jewish, and even among the Jews who come, many do not identify as practicing Jews. Today, students come to study in Israel for many reasons, including professional advancement, academic requirements, personal growth, international experience, an alternative to the classroom and, of course, in some cases, a connection to their Jewish heritage.
In order to accommodate the new student, innovative programs have sprung up, in addition to the classic Israeli study abroad programs. Today’s offerings include full degree programs in engineering, academic-based volunteer programs, internships, work-study programs, religious learning, secular yeshivas, professional training programs and many more options.
Israel’s universities have responded to this trend by modifying their academic offerings to meet today’s demand. The five major universities – the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University, the Technion, and University of Haifa – now offer courses in engineering, creative arts, business and entrepreneurship and academic honors programs.
Students have opportunities to participate in experiential learning internships and to receive professional mentoring. By widening the offerings and establishing an environment of acceptance of all student types, the university study abroad programs in Israel seek to remain relevant and challenging amidst the wealth of alternative programs being offered today around the world.
Of course, the traditional offerings of Jewish and Israeli history and culture subjects will always form the backbone of the curriculum offered to overseas students at Israel’s universities, but in order to continue to grow and be attractive in a competitive environment of international study opportunities, Israeli academic programming needs to continue to evolve together with the student it is trying to attract.