8 U.S. Colleges Join in Promoting Israel for Study Abroad

September 08, 2010

As part of an effort to raise Israel's profile as a study-abroad destination, eight American universities are starting or expanding programs to send students there.

The projects, which start in 2011 and 2012, were spurred by $400,000 in grants from Masa Israel Journey, a New York nonprofit financially supported by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

In the past decade, the Palestinian uprising and two wars have created security concerns that helped lead to a drop in the number of American students choosing to study in Israel.

Israel is 22nd out of the top 25 study-abroad destinations for students from the United States, according to the Institute of International Education, which advised Masa on the programs.

A total of 2,322 American students participated in study abroad in Israel in 2007-8, the most recent year for which data are available, and 2,226 the previous year. By contrast, more than 30,000 went to Britain, the top destination, in 2007-8.

Avi Rubel, director of Masa's North American operations, said that it was too early to know how many students would participate in the new programs, but that he hoped to propel Israel into the top 15 study-abroad destinations in the coming years.

Students wanted to study in Israel, he said, but not all were attracted by the academic programs traditionally offered to them, which have focused on Middle Eastern studies, Hebrew, and religious studies.

"In business, Israel is one of the centers of entrepreneurship in the world. You can have an amazing academic experience and an internship on par with London or anywhere else—it just hasn't been available until now," he said.

"In the research we did with students, they told us that they would go to Israel if those things were available," Mr. Rubel said. "We think students have Israel on their radar screen as a place they would like to go but are actually choosing other destinations because the course work and those experiences haven't been available."

The institutions receiving money from Masa are Arizona State University, Barnard College, Case Western Reserve University, Michigan State University, the New Jersey state-university system, the University of Florida, and the business schools of the University of Maryland and of Washington University in St. Louis.

Some of these efforts are building on existing programs.

Michigan State, for example, has partnerships with four Israeli universities and has sent 101 students to Israel since 2005, 30 of them in the past two months.

"What we hope is that students will choose to study abroad for academic reasons and have an experience that they can't have here on the East Lansing campus," said Cindy Felbeck Chalou, associate director of the university's study-abroad office. "We hope that students will gain from a cross-cultural experience, not only learning about the host country and their people but gaining a perspective of the U.S. that they couldn't gain unless they went abroad and were looking through another set of lenses."