IAS Student, Teacher and Lover of Semitic Languages, Elena, Reflects on her IAS experience
Very frequently IAS students, expecting to come study for one semester, find themselves brought into the Givat Haviva fold for much longer. The connections made on the semester with other students, teachers, host families and the surrounding environment often prove to be longstanding. Director Meirav Hofi’s kibbutz home often feels like Grand Central Station, with alumni frequently dropping by—either having stayed in Israel or having returned to further their adventures and understanding of this fascinating and complicated country.
One such story is that of Elena (not to be confused with IAS English Liason, Elana, whose own story was previously featured on this blog), a former IAS student who returned to IAS after her semester in order to assist student’s study time and teach Modern Standard Arabic.
Elena, who completed a Bachelors Degree in Arabic Literature and a Masters in Israeli Literature in her native Russia, and was working on her PhD in Arabic Literature during her IAS semester, came to Givat Haviva with an impressive knowledge of both Semitic languages. Her knowledge of Fusha was one of the most extensive longtime teacher Meirav had encountered. Her knowledge of spoken Arabic, however, was extremely limited.
Elena explains that the “breaking point” in deciding to improve her speaking/listening skills came after conversing with a visiting Palestinian professor. During their meeting she was barely able to understand what he was saying, despite that they had previously conversed extensively via email without any comprehension problems.
Having participated in two IAS semesters, Elena returned to Israel this fall to complete a degree in Consecutive and Simultaneous Translation at Bar Ilan University. Though she previously worked in written translation in Russia, the experience of simultaneous translation deepens her language experience, as it requires a very different set of skills such as fast reaction, good short-term memory, and concentration.
Asked about her experience of IAS, Elena explains it as “a total immersion into an international community…For me living in Givat Haviva was living with foreigners…and it was a great experience, I learned so much from people I studied with. I could see and feel how complex and multifaceted this place is, you can live here your whole life and never get bored. It’s fantastic.” Expanding further as to why she returned to teach, she says, “I think I just fell in love with the place [Givat Haviva] and its atmosphere, I feel like it attracts very special people and I wanted to experience and learn from it one more time.”
Returning as a teacher also provided new insight into the goings on of IAS, “I could see with my own eyes how much work Meirav and Galit [Director of IAS and of Givat Haviva’s Arabic department, respectively] put into the project, and also how flexible and dynamic it is, always evolving, expanding, open to the needs and desires of those who take part in it.”
Ultimately IAS was one stop in Elena’s long journey with languages. From her point of view, “The more languages you learn, the more lives you get to live.” The experience, however, was a defining one in that it “helped me connect to myself and discover my goals in life, it helped me see my passion for languages and a need to evolve it.” Certainly Elena’s enthusiasm also had a profound effect on the students she taught during last year’s programming!