Last summer at B’nai B’rith Camp, Tala Schlossberg heard a presentation about the Alexander Muss High School and realized, “I could learn math and science in a classroom or learn it in Israel and visit places and study history. That sounded like a much better experience.”
So instead of sitting in classes at South Eugene High School, Tala is spending the second semester of 10th grade at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, a study-abroad program for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. AMHSI gives them the opportunity to study the 4,000-year history of Israel “on a unique and fun adventure traveling to the actual sites where history took place.” Students receive high school credit and can earn six transferable college credits.
AMHSI is the only nondenominational, pluralistic study-abroad program available for high school students who are not affiliated with any political ideology. The school offers full semester and eight-week academic programs, six-week summer programs and an eight-week trip with the International March of the Living that starts in Poland and continues in Israel.
Though on the four-month semester program, Tala also spent a week in Poland studying the Holocaust. On a phone interview from Poland, Tala talked about her experiences in both countries.
“We started at the beginning of Jewish history and now we are learning about the Holocaust, so we are here visiting some ghettos and today Treblinka,” says Tala. “It’s amazing to connect the history in classes with the places. It’s eye opening and a lot more powerful to see the places first hand. It helps me connect on an emotional level.”
While the stories are sad, Tala says learning about groups and individuals who resisted is inspiring. Tala’s favorite experience thus far was her first week in Israel. The 30 students in her group spent their first week hiking across the Negev from the Mediterranean to Eilat on the Red Sea.
“We went on a camping trip all through the Negev to learn about history and see scenery and get close to everyone in the program,” says Tala. “It was a great chance to bring the whole group together and create a great sense of community. Since there aren’t a lot of Jewish kids in my school, I don’t get a lot of that.”Each day the students would hike to the top of a peak for lunch and look across the land, the bodies of water and where they would hike the next day. They saw the greening of the desert both from that overview and also during one night spent on an eco-kibbutz. “The kibbutz has cultivated the land and made it usable. It’s thriving,” says Tala.
With the exception of an intensive Hebrew class, Tala says all courses are in English. She knew almost no Hebrew before she arrived, but after two months she says she can now speak and understand enough Hebrew to “get by on the streets.” That has enabled her to experience a surprising difference from American culture. “In America if you say ‘hi’ to a random person on the street, you get skeptical looks,” she says. “Here, in general, people are more positive. They say ‘hi’ on the street and ask where you come from. … People are so enthusiastic about their country.”
Though she had visited Israel once before with her family, Tala says she has never felt as personally connected to Israel as she does now.
“I’m so glad I decided to come,” she says. “It’s made me appreciate everything more, and learning about another culture has really changed me for the better.”
Alexander Muss High School in Israel: 800-327-5980 firstname.lastname@example.org | amhsi.org