Hop on the GradTrain,next stop a far-off campus

Israeli post-doctoral student in NYC looking to advise potential study-abroad candidates.

Bar Ilan Universtyi students college lawn hanging out 390 (photo credit: Courtesy Bar Ilan University)
Bar Ilan Universtyi students college lawn hanging out 390
(photo credit: Courtesy Bar Ilan University)
After finishing her undergraduate studies in law and philosophy at the Hebrew University in 2005, Lital Helman was faced with a simple yet important question she knew she needed to find an answer for: “So now, what?” “You look at your professional horizon, and you tell yourself, ‘It’s not enough,’” she said, “I wanted to keep being a student a little more.”
Helman, who was born and raised in Jerusalem, then made the decision to apply for studies in the United States. That’s how she got to University of Pennsylvania, where she completed a master’s degree in law and a doctorate in juridical science by 2010.
Today, Helman resides in New York City, were she is a post-doctoral fellow at the NYU Law School.
“I came here and I got carried away,” Helman said with a smile, “One thing led to another. I guess you start something and you never know where it will take you.”
When looking back at her decision to move, Helman explained that “there was nothing wrong about studying in Israel” but she was looking for a personal change of scenery; she wanted to get away from the “collective reality” of Israel and live her own “little life.”
“Going somewhere else gives you the opportunity to not only start over socially but also to test yourself,” she added.
“It puts you in front of a challenge: It was the first time I arrived to a place where I had an accent, became a minority and suddenly found myself having to explain to people what Shabbat is.”
To her, studying abroad was the “humbling experience” that she needed, but the process of applying to schools in the US was probably the most difficult task Helman had to face as part of her journey.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” she recalled. “I applied to many different places, probably more than I should have, and I didn’t even know where to locate those places on the map.”
In fact, looking back, Helman often tells herself, “If I knew then what I know now, I would probably had done things differently”.
It is that exact phrase that led her and four of her University of Pennsylvania friends to found GradTrain, a start-up aimed at making the whole study-abroad process easier for those who are considering or have already decided to pursue the option.
GradTrain, which will officially launch this week, consists of a website bringing together prospective international students and people from the same home country, who have gone through the experience of studying abroad and are willing to coach and share pieces of advice with them.
“The five of us met in Israel one summer. We sat on the beach in Herzliya and started talking about how complicated the application process had been for all of us,” Helman recalled.
“We just thought, you know, when I applied, there was someone who was me in three years, there was a Lital of the future, someone who studied at Hebrew U and is doing a doctorate at UPenn, I’m not the first one. But I didn’t have access to that person.”
“So we thought we need to leverage that knowledge and find a mechanism to bridge between graduates and prospective international students,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
“We want to create a community of people who in the past, the present and the future are international graduate students.”
Helman explained that GradTrain’s focus on graduate studies is due to the fact that the founders of the site are all more familiar with the field and that much information is already available to prospective undergraduate students.
GradTrain selects its coaches after careful review of their application to help others on the site and according to different topics in which they could offer help. Each coach can then decide whether to charge or not for their services.
“We already have hundreds of people who want to be coaches, and a ton of questions from people who need help,” Helman said.
“We really didn’t spend anything on marketing, so it’s been amazing so far, and we haven’t even actually launched yet.”
According to a market research that Helman and her partners conducted ahead of the launch, the vast majority of respondents rated the forthcoming GradTrain services as somewhat to very useful; between 35 and 50 percent of respondents reported willingness to pay for most of the forthcoming Grad- Train services; and 80% of respondents were interested in becoming coaches for prospective international students. GradTrain’s website will officially launch on Tuesday.