Rebecca S.

"If you are passionate about your language, speak until you aren't afraid anymore. It is ok to be nervous. It is ok to not be fluent immediately. Don't give up."

Major(s) and Certificate(s): Hebrew and Semitic Studies, Jewish Studies, Middle Eastern Studies Certificate

Language(s): Hebrew (Modern)

Graduation Year: 2014

Current city: Madison, WI

What have you done since graduating from UW-Madison?

Directly after graduating from UW-Madison, I directed a Jewish Summer Day Camp in Madison. After this experience, I started immediately working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hillel. I am currently entering my second year as a Jewish Professional working under the position of Engagement Associate. I work with students and plan programs and facilitate leadership development. I also use my Hebrew language skills to staff Birthright trips to Israel and teach and tutor Hebrew on the side.

What motivated you to study this/these languages?

I have been studying Hebrew since I was 5 years old. This experience has shaped my education and has always made me love learning. I love studying Hebrew and teaching Hebrew because it is one of the richest, most beautiful languages in existence. I have such strong cultural and religious roots in the language, but it was not until college where I began to study and speak fluently. Being able to approach Hebrew from a perspective of higher education and improvement inspired me to study abroad in Israel. I was placed in the highest Ulpan immersion class at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was the only American that remained in the class and passed.

How have these languages enriched your life?

Hebrew has enriched me by being a bridge to understanding the Middle East and Israeli politics. Every time I assess a problem or a political issue, I can always read about it in both English and Hebrew. I am able to listen to the Knesset members speak in their native tongue. I cannot truly explain how enriching this has been for my life. I never have had to trust anyone else’s opinion or bias, because I can always come to my own understanding depending on the sources I pursue for research. I am able to have clarity on different subjects that inflame the American and global media. Hebrew is also an important language to communicate with half of my family and Jews across the world who are beginning to learn the language. I have spoken Hebrew with Holocaust survivors in Poland and random Israelis I have met in Mexico and beyond. My life is entirely different because I speak Hebrew.

What do you remember about your UW language classes? How were they different from other classes you took?

Hebrew class was always a smaller environment where I made real friendships that have lasted. I was challenged by professors that recognized my Hebrew education background. I took Hebrew for honors and did additional assignments each semester. I was challenged to be better than just a “good” Hebrew student, but an effective Hebrew educator. I wrote essays longer than I ever had before. I was expected to perform at a university level in Hebrew 533 and 534, and I worked hard to rise to the task.

How valuable were your out-of-classroom experiences?

Studying abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem was a full language immersion experience. I lived with Israelis and studied Hebrew all day, every day. I was fully immersed in the culture and my life has never been the same. I am able to communicate at a very high level and love to practice. I am no longer nervous about my accent or my comprehension at all.

How have you maintained or improved your language(s) since graduation?  

I have been teaching Hebrew to high school students in Madison for 4 years. I also tutored multiple students in Hebrew on the side, following the same lesson plan and curriculum of the University. I teach with university books and have tutored through the Hebrew department and privately.

What advice do you have for current language students?

If you are passionate about your language, speak until you aren’t afraid anymore. It is ok to be nervous. It is ok to not be fluent immediately. Don’t give up.

What is your favorite word or phrase in a language you know?

Yizkor – “Remember”