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Studying Abroad in Israel: Bad Idea?


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I am currently studying for an MA in International Affairs and am deeply interested in the Middle East. I would therefore like to spend my final semester studying in the region.


Right now, the options that interest me are The American University of Beirut and Israel (either The University of Haifa, IDC Herzliya, or The Hebrew University of Jerusalem). However, I am concerned: I am obsessed with Israeli politics and would love to spend time in the country, but I fear that spending time in Israel would preclude me from pursuing work in Beirut or elsewhere in the Middle East in the future.


Is my concern justified?


Additionally, unless I convert to Judaism or marry an Israeli, it doesn't seem like living in Israel after a semester there is possible. On the other hand, this would presumably be much more feasible in Beirut.


Finally, I am studying Arabic right now, so I guess that would be a con of studying in Israel. However, I would actively try to learn Hebrew if I studied there.


Any feedback would be most greatly appreciated.



Edited by mranderson
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I did a summer program at the University of Haifa and would not recommend it. The other students were great but the University isn't particularly well-organized and the campus is very far away from the city proper. I've heard good things from people who studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. 


I also spent a semester in Tel Aviv working for a joint Israeli-Palestinian NGO. There are definitely passport issues. You would likely have to get a new copy; you won't be allowed to enter Lebanon with evidence of a visit to Israel in your passport. If you're American, embassies will even issue you a dual copy for this purpose. I don't know what the policy is for other governments. But it shouldn't be very difficult to get a new/dual copy after you leave Israel.


However, it's my understanding that beyond passport problems there shouldn't be any issues working elsewhere in the Middle East afterwards. I spent six months in Israel and was then hired by the UN Relief and Works Agency in Jordan without any problem. The time I spent in Israel working on Palestinian issues was seen as a positive. If you spend time volunteering or working for an organization that is seen as very pro-Israeli or anti-Palestinian, then that could definitely prevent you from being hired. But simply studying or volunteering in Israel shouldn't count against you. Many of the people I've met here who work on Middle East issues have spent some amount of time in Israel. 


As far as Israeli visa issues: I got kicked out of Israel on a visa issue, which is how I ended up in Jordan. The Israeli government is very, very strict and it is indeed very difficult to stay, even if you marry an Israeli or convert. I spent like a month going down to the Israeli Ministry of the Interior every morning at 6:30 AM to wait in line, just to be told I was missing paperwork that had never been previously mentioned. It was exhausting.  Not that this should prevent you from studying in Israel, just don't expect to stay after your initial student visa expires. Though if you apply for an extension the case can be pending for several months. Mine was pending for three and during that time you can legally stay in Israel. I have no idea what it's like in Lebanon.


From the language classes I took at U of Haifa, it seems people with a background in Arabic pick up Hebrew very quickly and vice-versa. You could probably learn a good amount in a semester if you already have some Arabic.


Hope that helps!

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I've studied in Israel, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and at the American University in Beirut. To answer some of your questions:

The passport thing won't be an issue. You can obtain a second passport from the department of state specifically for travel to Israel under these circumstances, out you can simply apply for a new passport after you leave Israel. Definitely do not try to enter Lebanon with evidence that you've been to Israel, however if you're careful about it, there's no reason why you can't visit Lebanon after your study in Israel.

About the Arabic, I don't particularly see a huge advantage to studying Arabic in Beirut versus studying Arabic in Israel. Everyone in Beirut speaks English and people in Beirut joke about how little modern standard Arabic they know. If you are thinking that Beirut will provide you with some sort of Arabic immersion experience then you are mistaken. I would even go so far as to say that you may get equal Arabic exposure at Hebrew University if you spent enough time in East Jerusalem. Haifa also had 20% of the city as native Arabic speakers.

Working in Beirut after studying in Israel - this probably depends on a number of different factors. I worked at an international research institute in Beirut and they knew I had studied at the Hebrew University. I knew others that did as well. Unfortunately the political situation being what it is and Lebanese law being what it is, there may be instances where putting the Israel experience on your resume may close some doors for you working in Beirut.

I actually had a great time both in Beirut and in Jerusalem. Best of luck in whatever you choose.

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