The Hebrew University from a European student's perspective

Article published on Oct. 25, 2009
community published
Article published on Oct. 25, 2009
The Hebrew University starts at my bus stop in Jerusalem’s neighborhood of Rehavya. At 7.30 in the morning, I stand there and wait for my bus – doing my Italian homework, as Italian class starts at 8.30. Many other students come and join, pulling out papers on Foucault, on history of art or statistics.
When the bus comes – usually late – it is already quite full and becomes totally overcrowded on the thirty to forty minutes trip to the university. Actually, the bus becomes so overcrowded that it starts to skip bus stops with angry students knocking at its doors.

After passing the walls of the old city and neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, we finally arrive at the university, which still looks to me like a stronghold from the outside. There it stands – on the top of Mount Scopus with a beautiful outlook on the city of Jerusalem; it almost seems inaccessible. This impression, however, changes, as soon as you enter the lively and welcoming campus. The architecture of the campus is surrounded by myths. Two friends of mine once discussed if it is organized like an Arab market, where you can easily hide from the noise of the main corridors in the peaceful little “backyards”, or if it is organized like honeycombs, with the different faculties being centers around which the combs are organized. Fact is that it is quite hard to actually find your classrooms in the university, but that you can find “hidden” places with amazing outlooks over the city.

I am a Ph.D. student in the International Relations Department and from my experiences the Hebrew University seems to me a more German university than the German universities from which I received my degrees. Teaching and academic discourse are strongly influenced by (German) philosophy and also the bureaucracy seems quite German to me. This is certainly due to the Hebrew University’s German heritage – the founding fathers included Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Martin Buber. However, in recent years, the university has changed to a more American direction and stands at a crossroads (comparable to the European universities after the Bologna process), which especially affects fields like the humanities, where reforms led to critique, intensive discussions and even strikes.

The academic level of teaching and research is high and the university was internationally ranked on place 65 in 2008. As a foreign student, you can choose to study at the departments of the Hebrew University, if your Hebrew is good enough (level 4 of 6), as all courses are taught in Hebrew. Alternatively, you can study at the Rothberg School, where courses are mainly taught in English, most of them by lecturers and professors of the Hebrew University. There, you study with many Americans, but also some Asians, Africans and Europeans – most of them actually Germans. Many students from abroad combine their studies with voluntary work for local grassroots organizations in the areas of human rights, water rights, women rights, Israeli-Palestinian encounters, or socio-economic development.

In Jerusalem, you cannot escape the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But at the Hebrew University, you have a refuge from the often very conservative views of Jerusalemites. Here, paradigms are questioned and discussed and you can find almost any kind of opinion.