PSU, University of Haifa sign study-abroad pact
By Deborah Moon
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Portland State University and the University of Haifa have signed an Academic Institution Agreement that enables PSU to send students officially to the overseas program at the University of Haifa to receive PSU credit for their work.
“This is something we have needed at PSU for a long time, but haven’t had given the State Department warnings of risk associated with travel in the region,” said PSU Director of Education Abroad Ron Witczak.
Witczak said that the new agreement began with a visit from former Portlander Lisa Berman Kama, who is now director of admissions for UH’s International School. During that visit, Marvin A. Kaiser, dean of PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, convened a meeting of the stakeholders, including PSU Judaic studies faculty with experience at Haifa.
“This is an area of the world where we need more representation,” said Witczak. “With the support of Judaic studies, we’ve been able to get this program.”
Witczak said last year about 490 PSU students participated in study abroad opportunities, but only seven were in the Middle East—four in Egypt, two in Turkey and one in Jordan.
Witczak said he is pleasantly surprised to see how quickly the program has taken off. Five students have plans to study in Haifa in the coming year.
“For Judaic Studies it’s an exciting development that we expect to lead to growing numbers of PSU students, in Judaic studies and beyond, studying abroad in Israel,” said Michael Weingrad, academic director of PSU’s Harold Schnitzer Family Program in Judaic Studies.
One PSU student has already studied at Haifa, but he studied Hebrew at a summer ulpan, for which he received no credit. Previously his only Hebrew knowledge was sounding out words, which he said he learned as a bar mitzvah student in an after-school program.
“Technically I did not get credit at PSU… but because I was able to place into the third year of PSU’s Hebrew course … I sort of see the ulpan as being worth about 18 credits,” said Aaron Summerfield.
Summerfield, who studied arts and letters with a minor in history and Judaic studies, said he was impressed with the city of Haifa and the campus, though he said the computer technology was a bit behind PSU’s.
“The University of Haifa campus is both beautiful and completely unlike any other campus experience I’ve had,” said Summerfield. “Amazing views of Haifa abound. Haifa is also a very fun, metropolitan city that is worth exploring and the beach is always only a 15-minute bus ride away. … The student population was fairly diverse, containing an impressive mix of Jewish and Arab-Israeli students.”
Ashlee Klemperer, who plans to spend a full academic year studying in Haifa’s honors peace and conflict studies program, said she is looking forward to exploring another culture and new experiences. Klemperer said she also has a personal reason for studying in Haifa.
“I have family that live in Haifa,” she said. “They are on my father’s side of which I have no other connection. … Although I am not considered a Jew, I have always had a pull towards Israel and felt this was the most opportune time in my life to take advantage of this amazing opportunity.”
A liberal studies major who has taken many conflict resolution classes at PSU, Klemperer said she looks forward to taking Hebrew and focusing on “peace and conflict studies from a Middle-Eastern perspective using the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a base framework.” Ultimately she hopes to earn a master’s in social work and jurist doctorate degrees.
Another PSU student, Baeli Smith, an international studies student, plans to spend a full year at UH.
“I have been fascinated with the Middle East, in particular Israel for a very long time,” said Smith. “I have done a lot of research into Jewish history, especially the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and I am considering making that my career focus, to become involved in some capacity with helping to resolve the conflict.
“I believe also that it will be much more beneficial academically to come to know Israel personally by living there rather than to learn about the country in a classroom thousands of miles away. My goal is to return home with an intimate knowledge of the nation, its people and ways of life. Lastly, … being from a Christian heritage I am eager to learn more about the origins of my religion, the origins of the Jewish religion, and visit all of the holy places and sites that I have learned about for so long yet never experienced personally.”
Kama, who is the daughter of Mannie and Karen Berman, had studied at the University of Haifa before she made aliyah after graduating from Brandeis University with a bachelor’s in sociology. She spent her junior year abroad studying at UH’s International School.
“While we are always looking to develop new relationships with foreign universities, establishing a relationship with Portland State was especially important to me, as it would allow me to create a bridge between the community I grew up in and the community where I am living now,” said Kama.
Raised in Portland, Kama was active at Congregation Neveh Shalom (where her parents are still members) and Young Judaea. She also attended Portland Jewish Academy’s afternoon Hebrew program from second to 11th grade.
She said from her first visit to Israel at age 16 on a Young Judaea program, “Israel felt like home to me. … I loved the feeling of being part of the majority, where the holidays I celebrated were the national holidays and where the language I spoke was the national language.”
Kama said she hopes to welcome many students from PSU, as well as other universities, to study Hebrew, Arabic, Middle Eastern studies, religion, peace and conflict, sociology or psychology. Additionally, she said the International school welcomes adult learners in the Hebrew and Arabic language programs.
For more information on the University of Haifa, visit www.uhaifa.org. For more information on PSU’s study abroad program, contact Blythe Knott, education abroad advisor, at 503-725-4030 or firstname.lastname@example.org.