Hi, my name is Emily and I participated in the IAS program in Spring 2013. I started studying FusHa (formal Arabic) in college, but I was never really able to speak with anyone since native speakers don't use FusHa at home or in the streets. IAS was one of the few programs I could find that offered an immersion experience in the regional amiyya (dialect). It was always my goal to become conversational, as well as literate, in the Arabic language.
When deciding to enter the IAS program, ask yourself what your goals are. If your aim is to become 100% fluent in Arabic by the end of 5 months, I'm going to tell you, with the directness of an Israeli, it's not going to happen. Arabic, with all its nuances and dialects, is a language that takes a lifetime to learn.
However, if you want to become conversational and get a solid foundation in both FusHa and Levantine amiyya - and if you have a sense of adventure - then IAS is the right program for you.
Beyond the language learning itself, I made friends that I hope to have for life. You get a chance to bond with your classmates, and to meet both Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel, who will show you the country at a much deeper level than any news article ever could. During the IAS program, I not only learned a language, I learned about the complexity of Israeli politics and culture that led me to ask questions - most of which I still don't have answers to!
But that is the beauty of a learning experience like the IAS program. Your mind will expand, absorb new information, and change. You will undoubtedly grow, both personally and professionally.
After IAS finished, I was deciding whether to enter a graduate program back in the U.S. to study translation. I decided to defer for one year to improve my Arabic. I ended up finding an Nazareth based NGO, I'lam Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, to volunteer with. At I'lam I learned how to write grants and got to hone my translation skills.
I finally left Israel in March 2013, with a heavy heart, but I knew it was the right time for me to head home. Starting in September, I'm planning to do the same graduate program that I was considering last year, and I feel much better prepared.
Whether you stay in Israel for the semester or longer, going there will definitely change you. However, you need to go with an open mind. There can sometimes be a chaotic culture in Israel that Americans aren't necessarily used to, and you have to be flexible.
If you can do that, and don't mind using some elbow grease while also having fun, then go for it! It's a once in a lifetime chance.