Students from University of California campuses will soon have the opportunity to study at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheva, Israel. An agreement struck between the BGU Office for International Academic Affairs and the UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) will allow UC students spend a semester at BGU beginning in fall 2013, while receiving UC credit.
UCEAP already has a considerable portfolio of partner universities in places like Bangkok, Paris or Buenos Aires. But the BGU agreement is a breakthrough, says Jean-Xavier Guinard, associate vice-provost and executive director of UCEAP. The expansion of program options in Israel, a country where academics is highly valued, is great news for everyone, he says. "We hope the diverse offerings of coursework and research opportunities at BGU will attract new cohorts of UC students to study abroad."
Beersheva is an up-and-coming multicultural city located an hour from Tel Aviv, in the heart of the Negev desert (a UNESCO World Heritage Site ), in between multiple environmental and archeological jewels. BGU, which has been named the top choice of Israeli university students five years in a row by the Council for Higher Education in Israel, is a leader in sustainable development and environmental studies, global health, and Israel Studies. BGU is home to the first Center for Bedouin Studies and the Ben Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel, which includes the archives of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister.
"We are a cutting-edge research university," says Andi Meiseles, director of BGU's North American Office for International Academic Affairs. "Foreign students will gain tremendously from studying at BGU," adding that participants are eligible to study all fields offered at BGU, and that a wide variety of courses are available in English. Foreign students will also be entitled to participate in research and find internships with NGOS and other organizations through BGU.
As with any study abroad program, an important element is experiencing life in another country, says Meiseles. "Study abroad programs aren't all about academics. Studying at BGU provides an authentic Israeli experience. International students really connect with the city and with the people (they live with Israelis in the dorms), learn Hebrew, make Israeli friends and live in one of the most magnificent regions of the country," says Meiseles. Students are also encouraged to participate in local community-service work, which is a big part of student life at BGU, join one of hundreds of clubs offered on campus, and explore Israel and the Middle East as part of several trips that have been planned by program organizers.
"As one of our alumni said, 'BGU is the place to be.'"
Meiseles adds that Overseas Students Program (OSP) students are provided with a strong infrastructure to help them throughout their stay at BGU. The program, which begins with a weekend orientation, offers Hebrew language classes and an optional 'buddy system' – sponsored by the Israeli students. Furthermore, "If students run into any kind of problem, staff members are there (some counselors even live in the dorms) to help with social, cultural, academic, health or any other issue that may arise," says Meiseles.
Although UC students will pay tuition to their home university and be responsible for additional fees during their stay in Beersheva, financial aid is available to those who qualify. In addition, the UCLA Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, in partnership with the American Associates of Ben Gurion University, is working to secure additional scholarship funding for UCLA students to participate in this education abroad program.
"One of our main goals is to foster cooperation and partnerships between UCLA and Israeli universities," says Maura Resnick, deputy director of the Nazarian Center. "There is no better way to truly understand Israel's complex and multi-cultural society than through an immersive, first-hand experience studying in the country. Money should not be an obstacle to this kind of learning and life experience."