The world in a nutshell – at the Hebrew U’s Rothberg International School

The Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, located at the heart of the Mount Scopus campus, is host to hundreds of students from around the world every year.

An organized hike up North (photo credit: Courtesy)
An organized hike up North
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem has always been renowned as a hub where East meets West, where a myriad of faiths and cultures each add their particular hue to the complex tapestry that makes up the city. To this colorful diversity, the international students who chose to pursue their studies in Jerusalem for anywhere between three months and three years make a notable contribution.
The Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, located at the heart of the Mount Scopus campus, is host to hundreds of students from around the world every year. The broad range of programs offered at the school reflects the heterogeneity of these guests.
As they come in greater numbers from ever more diverse countries, the Rothberg school blooms and grows in unexpected new directions.
THE SCHOOL offers a study-abroad academic program that caters to international students visiting for a semester or a full year during college, mostly from North American universities. With more than 200 such students enrolled in the program in the academic year 2015-2016, the school strives to provide an academic setting to introduce them to Israel, a door through which they can experience the country and the people for themselves.
“We want to be the open gate to Israeli society for these students,” explains Eran Rotshenker, administrative director of student activities at Rothberg. “Over the past few years we’ve introduced many new events and activities into the program to get these students out of the classroom to see the real Israel.”
Apart from organized trips and hikes around the country, the school now offers visiting students the chance to explore Israel according to their specific areas of interest: business students are invited to tour local startups such as Mobileye; political science majors meet with Knesset members and retired army officers; participants in the “Jerusalem Dance” project team up with Israeli students at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance for joint lessons and endeavors.
This year will see the opening of a new volunteer track that will assign international students to various local schools as English tutors, particularly in the Orthodox community. For those aspiring to a career in the world of non-governmental organizations, Rothberg will offer new internship programs at several Jerusalem- based NGOs dealing with a host of social issues.
A common complaint among students visiting Israel from abroad is the difficulty of stepping out of the social comfort zone at Rothberg to form lasting connections with Israelis their age; to “remember Israel for the friendships they made here,” as Rotshenker puts it. It is to this end that many efforts at Rothberg have been made to provide platforms for its students to mingle with their Israeli neighbors on the Mount Scopus campus.
“We kicked off a tradition of ‘language- exchange’ events, where Israeli students couple with visitors speaking a language they wish to learn. In exchange for an informal lesson in Hebrew over a pint of beer, they receive a chance to brush up their French, Russian or English and make a new friend.” These events have so far been a great success, and promise to create much hype on campus this year.
THE HUMAN landscape at Rothberg has been drastically changing over the past year. Reflecting new Israeli policies looking to strengthen ties with the Far East, Rothberg has adjusted its entry requirements and welcomed dozens of students from China, South Korea and Japan.
“Many of our Chinese students enroll in our intensive Hebrew-language programs.
Some even come here already speaking quite a bit,” Rotshenker chuckles.
As Tu Bishvat coincides with the Chinese New Year this year, the school plans a joint celebration with a mixed holiday theme, and a mixed cuisine that will undoubtedly bring Israeli and Chinese students around the same dinner table.
One wonders what lasting connections and future business ventures can be born over a dish of noodles mixed with dried figs.
Yet another visible change in the student population is the growing number of French Jews who come to s tudy as part of the mechina preparatory program, which caters to young immigrants who seek admission into Israeli universities. Anyone looking for evidence of an increasing sense of insecurity among Jews living in France can easily find it in the corridors of the Rothberg School, where French chatter echoes around every corner.
“Many [French Jews] who see their future here in Israel are looking for programs that will ease their transition into Israeli society. We receive many more calls from French youth interested in our mechina program than we did several years ago.” In response to the growing demand from French prospective students, Rothberg has opened the new “Basis” program for highly accomplished French high-school graduates who will be prepared for admission into the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a full exemption from the national psychometric entry exam.
THE MECHINA program is of course home to a myriad of other students from all corners of the world. In addition to olim from Russia, the United States, South Africa and more, the program also enrolls Israelis who grew up abroad as well as Arab residents of east Jerusalem who wish to enter the Hebrew University, and so must complete their bagrut (matriculation) exams and demonstrate the required proficiency in Hebrew.
“There is no other academic program that brings a Canadian oleh, an Australian tourist thinking of immigrating, an Israeli guy released from the army and an Arab girl from Beit Hanina to study together in the same classroom,” says Allison, an American-born student at Rothberg with a wide grin on her face.
Rotshenker adds: “if you are looking for an example of peaceful coexistence, this is it. Come here to the mechina program and see how it happens.”
As the Rothberg International School enters another academic year, the institution’s growth embodies the face of Jerusalem as an increasingly international destination, and a hub for students from all over the world to come and share in the making of this unique brew of cultures and ideas. Truly, the more the merrier!