Buisch, Pauline

Buisch, Pauline

Name: Pauline Buisch
E-mail: pbuisch@nd.edu
Language: Modern Hebrew
Location of Study: Israel
Program of Study: The Tantur Eccumenical Institute
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures

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A brief personal bio:

Originally from Atlanta, I studied music and theater in New York and earned a Bachelor of Music from NYU. I then moved to Dallas, TX where I earned a MDiv from Redeemer Seminary. After graduating, I taught Biblical Hebrew at Redeemer Seminary for two years. I am currently finishing my first year of PhD studies in the Department of Theology at Notre Dame with a focus on the Hebrew Scriptures. I am married to Jonathan, who is looking forward to visiting me in Israel this summer!

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

In the field of Biblical Studies, it is perhaps more critical now than ever that scholars be able to access secondary literature written in Modern Hebrew. As a PhD student in Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity with a focus on the Hebrew Scriptures and early Judaism, it is crucial that I be able to read monographs and articles in Modern Hebrew with ease. Knowledge of Modern Hebrew is also valuable in that it enhances one’s knowledge of Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew, which are central to my studies. I hope to spend the fall semester of 2016 studying at The Hebrew University in preparation for my candidacy exams in the spring of 2017. In order to be able to take advantage of that opportunity, it is necessary that I have a certain fluency in Modern Hebrew.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

I hope and expect that this intensive course in Modern Hebrew will substantially improve my ability to interact with modern Israeli scholarship. Being immersed in Modern Hebrew for a significant amount of time will not only enhance my knowledge of Biblical Hebrew, but will allow me to maximize that knowledge as I transition to the living language. In addition to accelerating my acquisition of Modern Hebrew, living in Israel will provide me with the opportunity to visit important historical sites and to experience the landscape that serves as the backdrop to the Hebrew Scriptures.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. By the end of the summer, I will be able to read an article in Modern Hebrew in my field of study with ease.
  2. By the end of the summer, I will be able to engage in basic conversation with local Israelis.
  3. By the end of the summer, I will be able to read at the level of proficiency required to pass the Modern Hebrew language so as to meet the modern language requirement for the Department of Theology. 

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Instead of living in the international student dormitory with English speakers, I have decided to live in an apartment with two Israeli students. Living with native Hebrew speakers will constantly provide me with opportunities to practice what I am learning in the classroom. By living in the center of Jerusalem instead of on the secluded campus, I will be required to speak Modern Hebrew beyond my level of mastery and comfort. I will also take advantage of the many events scheduled by the Hebrew University, such as lectures and film showings in Modern Hebrew.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

Tomorrow I head to Israel. I will be attending an intensive Modern Hebrew course at The Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. What I know about the course itself (aside from its general reputation for being an excellent program), I’ve learned from reading a couple blogs written by alumni of this particular ulpan. (An “ulpan” is an intensive Hebrew language course). Both students whose blogs I found wrote that attending the ulpan at Hebrew University was the most difficult thing they have ever done. That is quite a way to characterize a summer school program! I am interested (and yes, nervous) to discover what made this experience so exceptionally challenging. Was it the sheer quantity of the work? I know I’ll be in class for several hours a day, five days a week, and taking home quite a bit of homework. Was it the intense experience of hearing a foreign language live? I know that the entire class will be taught in Hebrew. Was it the challenges that come with living in a country with a culture vastly different from your own? I know that simple things, like buying groceries, quickly become complicated. I imagine in just a week or so, I will have an idea of what those two student bloggers meant. I am glad that the anticipation will be over soon, and am ready to jump in!

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

An hour before sunset on Fridays, almost everything in Jerusalem closes and does not reopen until an hour after sunset on Saturday. Grocery stores shut their doors. Buses stop running. Restaurants are empty. I arrived in Jerusalem right as this Shabbat quiet was descending. I was dropped off by the shared taxi (one of the few things that still operates during Shabbat) at an intersection a few blocks away from my apartment. As I rolled my large suitcase down the street, I made an odd addition to the pedestrian traffic, which consisted of orthodox Jews on their way to the synagogue. When I reached my apartment, I was greeted first by the parents of one of my flatmates. Though none of them is religious, this Shabbat was still an occasion to share a large meal with family to which I was graciously invited. So my first meal in Israel was a Shabbat dinner complete with challah bread and a hearty לחיים (“l-chaim,” which means, “to life,” is the Israeli “cheers!”).

Though I have studied Biblical Hebrew for several years now and read some Modern Hebrew, I had never heard Hebrew spoken live until now. My first day of the ulpan was quite a shock to my ears as they desperately tried to keep up with fast, conversational speed of the five-hour class. Even though I have zero experience listening and speaking, I was placed in an upper intermediate level because I am relatively comfortable reading Modern Hebrew and have a good understanding of the grammar. That’s to say that my classmates can chatter away conversationally while I struggle to say the most basic things. I can already tell that one of the challenges of this experience is to be content with my particular stage of learning. Though the aural component is going to be the most difficult for me, it has been an exciting and even meaningful experience to finally hear Hebrew.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

Learning a foreign language is a humbling experience. You have a to be willing to communicate beyond your level of mastery and comfort or else you will never advance. This is particularly difficult in a place like Jerusalem where almost everyone you encounter, the young woman bringing you your iced coffee, the bus driver, the man on the corner whom you ask for directions, all speak English. In most every scenario in which I find myself, it is more efficient for everyone involved, them and me, if we just speak English. Practicing Hebrew in the city is a constant process of pushing the comfortable aside and choosing the harder route. In the classroom, I have some comradery in my awkwardness, which of course makes it a bit easier.

The class is going well, and I feel like I’m begining to settle into rhythm of our full schedule. We are in class five hours a day, which is filled with various activities. Being in an intermediate level in the ulpan is like going back to grade school – back to the days when you composed practice sentences with your new spelling words, went on nature walks led by your teacher, and labored over the five minute presentation you have to give in which you summarize a newspaper article for the class (all of which I have done this week) – back to the days when simple things were difficult. Yesterday we even played drama games (in Hebrew of course!) with a theater professor at the university. It has been a challenging and wonderful experience to submit to this process of learning. My goal this week is to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

Kosher restaurants are either meat restaurants or dairy restaurants, and it seems that the majority in Jerusalem are the latter. Aside from the ubiquitous felafel and hummus, shakshuka seems to be the classic Israeli meal, appearing on the menu of every dairy restaurant that I’ve seen. Traditional shakshuka consists of eggs poached in tomato sauce, usually served with a fresh salad and crusty bread, but the simplicity of this dish makes it fabulously flexible leading to all sorts of variations. It seems that you can crack an egg over any combination of vegetables and call it shakshuka – eggplant, peppers, potatoes… altough I imagine if you were to omit tomatoes altogether it would cease to be shakshuka.

I opted for the original shakshuka at Tmol Shilshom, a little restaruant cafe tucked in a back alley near the city center. The waiter informed me that though it is often eaten for breakfast, shakshuka is appropriate at any time of day, so I ordered it for dinner without fear of scrutiny. Shakshuka lived up to its reputation. It is the ultimate comfort food – eggs, tomato sauce, and bread. I am now determined to make my own shakshuka. I’ll head to the market tomorrow to find my vegetables, eggs, and something crusty to go along.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

My bus ride home from Hebrew University today was longer than usual because tonight is Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power). Laylat al-Qadr falls on one of the the last ten days of Ramadan, and is the night in which Muslims commemorate the giving of the Kuran to Muhammad. I’m living near the Damascus Gate (the most impressive gate of the old city, considered to be the best example of Ottoman architecture in Jerusalem), which opens from the old city into an East Jerusalem neighborhood. Roads are blocked off in this area in preparation for the thousands of Palestinians who are expected to travel to the old city of Jerusalem today to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which is the third holiest site in Islam.

The month of Ramadan started the day before I arrived in Jerusalem, so my first evening was not only Shabbat but also the first Friday of Ramadan. Restaurants, falafel stands, and cafes have been closed every day because Muslims are fasting from sunrise to sunset. Last Friday, I planned to take the bus to Ein Kerem, a neighborhood in West Jerusalem believed to be the birthplace of John the Baptist. After waiting at the bus stop for a while, I finally realized that the bus I needed was not running that day. So I splurged, and decided to take a taxi. The taxi driver explained to me that buses were rerouted due to Ramadan traffic that day. He himself isn’t religious, he told me, but he still fasts during Ramadan. In fact, he so believes in the good of fasting that he abstains from food even on Jewish fast days. For him, fasting during Ramadan, is meant to remind people of the poor. “While fasting during the day, we should remember those who are hungry, and then share with them in the evening.”

Just hearing the sounds of the city from my apartment is enough to feel the complexity of Jerusalem. On Friday evenings, a siren announces the beginning of Shabbat precisely ten minutes before Jewish women light the Shabbat candles. Around 8:30 or so every night, I hear a startling canon that alerts Muslims that their fast is over for the day. And then, of course, I can hear church bells ringing throughout the week.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

My ulpan teacher has been teaching Hebrew for many years, and is the author of the textbooks we are using . It’s been great to have such an experienced instructor who literally wrote the book and who is revered by the other ulpan teachers. If she hadn’t convinced me stay in the upper intermediate class, I would have dropped down to a lower level. But knowing that she had so many years of experience, I trusted her judgment, and in the end she was right. This level, though challenging, has been the right place for me. You can tell that teaching Hebrew is not just her job, but that she deeply cares about Hebrew education.

The couple times that she has gotten excited, raised her voice, and talked almost too quickly for me to know what was going on have been when Hebrew language itself has been the topic. Once she went on a rant about teachers who allow their students to write casually, and how she feared that the standard of academic Hebrew was being lowered. Another time she got excited when someone brought up the word סתם (stam). Stam literally means “simply”, but it’s a word you hear very often, almost as an exclamation. From what I can tell, it’s similar to saying in English “come on!” in response to something. I’ve heard it around me on the street and on the bus, on TV, and among my classmates who have spent enough time in Israel to be comfortable with some slang. But I’d noticed that I hadn’t heard my teacher say stam except in the context of a sentence in which she actually meant “simply”. This time in class when the word stam was brought up, she playfully said that there are actually two words with separate pronunciation. Stam is stam. But stam (the slang exclamation that she apparently dislikes) is staaam (complete with nasal intonation and a rolling of the eyes).

It’s been exciting to learn Hebrew as a living, breathing language, a language that is actually quite young and still changing (though Hebrew is very ancient, Modern Hebrew has only been spoken since the late 19th century). My classmates and I feel especially lucky to have the Hebrew expert who “wrote the book” as our guide.

Reflective Journal Entry 7:

Though I am relieved to be nearing the end of this intense program, and am very excited to see my husband (who is flying to Tel Aviv on the last day of class!), I’m sad that the month is almost over. I feel as though my ear is just beginning to get to the stage where it doesn’t panic when someone on the street says something to me in Hebrew. My eyes don’t gloss over quite as quickly, and I actually have a chance at saying something in response. Not having taken a formal Modern Hebrew class before (there are surprisingly few institutions that offer Modern Hebrew) but having read quite a bit of Hebrew on my own, I have been a true beginner in conversational skills though I am relatively comfortable reading. It has made for an interesting experience, and I’ve had to constantly remind myself that it’s okay for me to be behind in some areas and ahead in others. I hope that I have the opportunity to come back and stay for more than a month, so that I can break through to the next stage of listening and speaking. But for now, I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned. There is nothing like learning the language when it’s all around you. For the first time in my Hebrew life, there are Hebrew words that are in me that are there not because I’ve memorized them from the back of a notecard, but because I’ve heard them around me, read them, and used them. Hebrew has become a real language to me this summer.



Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

The amount of growth that can take place in just one month is surprising. I’ve never been in an intensive language program before, and I’ve been amazed by how adaptable the human brain can be if put in the situation where the basic need to communicate becomes the primary motivation for language study. But at the same time, one month is hardly long enough to “learn Hebrew”. Learning a language is a long process that takes constant, diligent contact and patience. This experience has definitely pushed my Hebrew language skills to a new level, and yet at the same it feels like just a beginning. As for concrete learning gains, I have grown much more comfortable reading unpointed Hebrew, my listening comprehension has improved significantly, and I have developed writing skills for the first time. This month has accelerated my Hebrew education and I hope to move forward with that momentum.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
Overall this experience has challenged me academically and personally. I have learned more Hebrew than I thought possible in a month. I have been surrounded by new peoples and cultures that have challenged the way I see that part of the world. I have been reminded how difficult it is to be the linguistic and cultural outsider, and want that uncomfortable feeling of childlike helplessness to always remind me to be kind to the foreigner whenever I am the local, comfortable in my environment, easily communicating in my native language. This experience has made my world smaller and larger at the same time.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

I hope to return to Hebrew University to attend another ulpan and to take courses related to my field. In the meantime, and in order to prepare for those further studies, I want to develop a plan to stay engaged in Modern Hebrew that includes both casual and more intentional study. Before I went to Israel this summer, I started watching Israeli TV in order to get better at listening and to grow my vocabulary. That has been helpful, so I plan to continue to stay connected to the Hebrew language and Israeli culture through TV and movies. Another way I plan to improve my Hebrew is to use websites written in Hebrew for casual online reading when possible. Why read a Wikipedia article on the Artists’ Colony in Safed in English when I can read one in Hebrew? The purpose of even these informal activities is to improve my Hebrew so that I can access Israeli scholarship on the Hebrew Scriptures and Early Judaism. I plan to begin to incorporate modern Israeli scholarship into my research this academic year, and will aim to regularly be reading an article or book in Modern Hebrew related to my research topic.