Having grown up in a Conservative Jewish community in Maryland, Elisheva Layman had been to Israel several times before she was 20, and was ready for a non-tourist experience. “I wanted to be based in one place for once and I knew that studying abroad in Israel was the best way to do that,” she says.
A University of Maryland student majoring in Special Education, Elisheva decided to enroll in the Masa Israel-accredited Hebrew University and fulfill her elective requirements. In addition to taking courses in the History of Israel, Holocaust Studies and Halacha, Elisheva worked on her Hebrew both inside and outside of the classroom.
Twenty minutes from campus, Elisheva found a school for autistic children. In her limited Hebrew, she explained her background in working with children with special needs and asked to volunteer there. The staff readily accepted and made Elisheva a math tutor. “I was also an extra set of hands,” says Elisheva. “Which really helped me improve my Hebrew.”
With previous experience in working with the special needs population, it was interesting for Elisheva to learn about teaching methods in a new environment. “At first, I was shocked to find that 18 and 19-year-old women completing their national service basically ran the school,” says Elisheva. “It’s the type of thing that would never happen in the U.S., but they were excellent at their jobs and really knew what they were doing.”
On weekends, Elisheva took advantage of her central location in Israel and visited friends and family all over the country, traveling to Beit Shemesh, Chashmonaim, and Herzliya. “Living in Jerusalem, I really felt like I could go anywhere—even during the week,” says Elisheva. “My apartment was a 10-minute bus ride from Ben Yehuda Street and Old City, and in 45 minutes, I could be on the beach in Tel Aviv.”
The experience in Israel made Elisheva a lot more independent. “I had to learn how to live in my own apartment, buy my own food and take buses everywhere—all in a new country,” says Elisheva. “But I learned my way around, got comfortable and Israel became a second home to me.”
Back at the University of Maryland, Elisheva was the president of the Jewish social action committee, and planned community service events on campus—including a big sibling program for local youth and a day when students made 5,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless in Washington, DC.
In her free time, Elisheva searches for return trips to Israel. “My study abroad experience in Israel made me love the country so much more,” she says. “I just wish it weren’t so far away.”