Everyone has an opinion on Israel, even if they’ve never been. For such a small country (it’s the size of New Jersey), there’s a lot going on, and a lot to have an opinion on. But to truly know this complex, beautiful, and historic place, you need to spend time here. You’ll learn that there are a lot of different groups of people who call this place home.
You’ll learn that they all have a deep love for the land in all of its diverse beauty. You’ll learn that it is possible for history and modernity to live side by side. You’ll learn to read from right to left, how to differentiate between good and bad hummus, and how to protect yourself from spitting camels.
If you’re itching to dig deep into a mystical, historical, and all around badass place, then studying abroad in Israel is probably for you. Read on to learn why!
What makes Israel study abroad so great?
Some countries are best for studying certain subjects, but study abroad in Israel has something to offer everyone. Past and present, tradition and innovation, it all exists side by side here. And the study break options are numerous and epic. It’s fairly easy to get around in Israel, and many study abroad programs build in some exploration to go with the classroom learning. When you’re not in class you can get lost in Jerusalem’s Old City and find yourself marveling at historic site you’ve been learning your whole life. You can venture into the desert to find that it’s actually full of life (and ancient fortresses!).
You can float (forever) in the Dead Sea. And you’ll realize that spending time by the Mediterranean will ruin you for other beaches. And it doesn’t stop there…
9 unexpected perks of study abroad in Israel
Study abroad isn’t all classroom lectures, study sessions, and exams. Study abroad is also an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture while learning new things your new home and yourself. Israel may be a small country, but it is chock-full of delicious food, welcoming people, stunning views, and some surprises.
1. You can get up close and personal with history—Jewish, Christian, and Muslim
This might actually not be so unexpected. Israel has been a major player in world events for centuries, and the evidence is everywhere. Embrace your inner Indiana Jones and explore the Old City of Jerusalem, or climb to the top of Masada, an ancient fortress. When (not if, but when) you get lost in the Old City, you’ll probably stumble upon a centuries-old church. That church will have people not just visiting but praying; these grand historic sites maintain their relevance and importance today. Walking through the quarters of the Old City will remind you that people of diverse backgrounds and faiths have been living side by side for centuries. Every time you hear the call to prayer, remember that this place is significant and holy to a lot of people from around the world.
The historic importance of this country is not confined to the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. While you’re catching your breath at the top of Masada, you’ll look out at your surroundings and realize that more than a thousand years ago, people stood in the exact same spot, looking out at the world.
2. You’ll be studying in a cradle of invention and innovation
Many people don’t know this, but Israel has been at the forefront of so many great inventions and innovations. In fact, Israel has produced 11 Nobel Laureates since 1966! Israelis are responsible for innovations in technology, medicine, agriculture, and even language. The modern Hebrew that is spoken in Israel today was revived from the biblical Hebrew spoken thousands of years ago.
Israel’s vast desert and limited natural resources (water and farmland) have forced people to get creative. In Israel, the desert isn’t just empty, dry space in the south—it’s an opportunity to develop new ways of growing crops in inhospitable locations. Where else can you find bananas being grown in the desert?! Study abroad in Israel and perhaps you’ll be a part of the next great breakthrough.
3. Everything is farm to table… er, perhaps farm to shuk
While Israel conjures images of deserts and the Dead Sea, fresh produce is abundant. A perk of Israel’s small size is that those tomatoes don’t have to travel far to get to your falafel pita. After doing your weekly shop in Israel’s lively, open-air markets, the produce aisle at your local supermarket at home just won’t cut it. On your way from the cucumber lady to the olive guy, you can pick up a beach towel and some sunglasses too. Practice your Hebrew while you’re at it. You won’t find fresher food or a more authentic experience than at the shuk.
Israeli study abroad programs give students the opportunity to learn the strides Israel is making in the agricultural sector—to literally feed the future.
4. Hummus and falafel as far as the eye can see
Hummus and falafel are religious experiences all on their own here. There are restaurants that serve nothing but hummus (all hummus, all the time). If you think you’ve had good hummus before, you know nothing, Jon Snow. Your Israel study abroad experience may be incomplete if you don’t indulge in these national specialties. Also not to be missed: shakshuka, rugelach, and the iced coffee from Aroma Espresso Bar (it’s not just any iced coffee—trust us). Just promise us you’ll eat all the things? Maybe you can earn a degree in delicious while you study abroad in Israel. ;-)
If you have the chance, go visit a Druze village. The Druze are an ethnic and religious minority living in Israel’s north. Their culture, religion, and history are very interesting and unique. And if you’re lucky, you’ll eat the best meal of your life.
5. Incredible nature to get ALLL up in
After all that eating, it’s time to walk it off. The Israel National Trail is a hiking trail that runs the entire length of Israel from north to south. The trail is marked with painted rocks and can be completed in two months. You can also hike shorter sections of it so that you don’t miss too much class. Some Israelis will hike the whole thing in one shot, while others will hike sections at a time during holidays and time off from work.
One of the best ways to experience Israel is to get out into nature. The trail will take you from the rolling green hills of the Golan Heights, to Mount Carmel, through the Negev desert, to the very south of the country on the Red Sea. For such a small country, Israel is a country full of diverse landscapes and natural wonders. You’ll climb mountains, cross rivers, marvel at waterfalls, and swim and float in seas. Studying abroad in Israel is not just an indoor activity.
6. The local ice cream is worth screaming
Israel has a pretty impressive dairy industry. Foodies in Tel Aviv are constantly testing out new ice cream flavors (hummus ice cream, anyone?). In the desert there is a kibbutz that has become quite famous for its dairy products. Yotvata products are sold all over Israel (they’re ice cream has even made it to Rome!). In addition to the ice cream, their chocolate milk should not be missed either. Have you ever had milk out of a bag? Oddly enough it tastes better that way. Getting stranded at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere is not so bad if they’re selling local ice cream.
7. Shared public transit—perfect for putting your language skills to the test
Save your feet and share a taxi. Known as sherut in Hebrew (not to be confused with sherutim, which means bathroom), shared taxis are a convenient and inexpensive way to get around. Sheruts are especially handy on Friday and Saturday when the buses aren’t running for Shabbat. It’s not less hot at night, so those loooooong walks home after a night out can be tough. You’ll notice that no one pays until they are already on their way. Be prepared to be amazed as the driver successfully counts out everyone’s change while driving.
8. More holidays
As a Jewish country, Israelis celebrate some extra holidays you may not celebrate at home. Spending time in a new country always means having an opportunity to learn a new culture and traditions. The extra holidays on the calendar also mean extra days off (more time for hiking and exploring perhaps), and fun new celebrations and foods. Walk down an empty highway when everyone IN THE WHOLE COUNTRY stops driving for Yom Kippur, eat latkes for Hanukkah, and dance through the streets during Purim. Have a soft spot for barn animals or wise men? Hop on a bus and you can celebrate Christmas in Jesus’ hometown.
9. You can impress Wonder Woman when you learn Hebrew!
Hebrew may not be a widely spoken language, but if it’s good enough for Gal Gadot, it’s good enough for us! That’s right, Wonder Woman herself is from Israel. And, like roughly nine million people worldwide, she speaks Hebrew. Learning the language of your temporary home will go a long way to help you integrate into your community. You’ll find things like shopping and asking for directions easier, and you’re more likely to make new friends.
Ulpan classes, aka Hebrew language classes, are easy to find for all levels and learning styles. While you’re at it, pick up an Arabic class too. Hebrew and Arabic are both official languages of Israel, and most signs are written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. You’re also likely to hear some Russian and Amharic from the large populations of Russian and Ethiopian immigrants living in Israel.
6 awesome study abroad programs in Israel
Now that you have nine more reasons to be excited Israel study abroad, here are some great study abroad programs to think . From summer programs, to academic semesters, to full year programs, Israel has a wealth of options for just anyone.
Housed at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, this program is perfectly centrally located to explore the whole country. The Overseas Student Program at BGU gives students the opportunity to take advantage of the university’s diverse class and program offerings. When you’re not studying, considering enhancing your Israel study abroad experience with a volunteer placement and/or an internship. Wanna learn more?
The ISBA gives students an opportunity to learn Israeli business, immersed in a country of entrepreneurs. With the most startups per capita, there’s no better place to learn or people to learn from. A summer program like this is complimentary to your studies at home.
Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, hosts this engaging and multi-faceted program. Students will engage with the diverse communities of Haifa while exploring a range of issues and topics from several different perspectives. Urban neighborhoods striving for coexistence, a national forest, stunning coastal views, these are just some of the things that give students the opportunity to continue learning and exploring when they leave their classrooms.
- Related: Read CIEE reviews
Study abroad isn’t just for undergrads. The Jerusalem institute of Languages and Humanities offers students a unique Masters Degree program in one of the world’s major centers of history. The one year program in Near Eastern Languages gives students a taste of a longer MA program. You’ll study Arabic, Biblical or modern Hebrew, and other related humanities courses. Can you imagine studying these topics in a more relevant setting?
Kibbutz Ketura is home to the Middle East’s premier environmental studies and research program. The program offers students from around the world the opportunity to learn from top professionals in the field and join a network of like-minded people, committed to solving the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.
As Israel’s cultural, financial, and technological center, Tel Aviv is the perfect mediterranean beach town to spend a semester in. Take advantage of your surroundings by learning from local professors keen to teach eager students the complexities of your new home. We guarantee winters here are sunnier than at NYU’s home in New York City.
Let’s get this Israel study abroad ball rollin’
If you want to infuse your studies with a bit of adventure, study abroad in Israel is exactly what you need!
For such a small country, there sure are a ton of incredible program options available. In Israel your learning will not end at the classroom door. From the desert, to the beaches, to the mountains, there are endless opportunities for adventure, exploration, and learning. Grab a falafel pita and study abroad in Israel.