Whether you study or practice a Judeo-Christian religion, are interested in world history or politics, or just have an interest in the language, choosing to learn Hebrew in Israel is a guaranteed immersion unlike many other language-learning opportunities you can find in the world. The practices and education systems for learning Hebrew in Israel are complex, but offer students a variety of choices and on the whole, great educational opportunities.
Immersion is widely considered to be a requirement for true language proficiency, and Israel is one of the best places to be immersed while learning Hebrew. Add to it that you can be surrounded by important historical, political, and religious institutions, and Israel becomes a tantalizing opportunity for anyone who loves learning language, or wants to specifically learn Hebrew for personal or professional reasons.
Hebrew language instruction comes in a variety of forms, offering potential students a nearly endless number of choices. Depending on your budget, educational preferences, timeline for learning, existing Hebrew knowledge, and personal interest in the language, you will likely find at least one course that fits your needs.
Most of the major universities in Israel offer at least some language courses in Hebrew for international students who enroll in degree programs. These courses can also be taken by students on a one-off basis in most cases. Universities offer a degree of comfort to students as well as quality, but may have higher tuition costs depending on the size of the university.
In case you aren't familiar with the term, ulpan generally refers to immersion language schools, though they take many forms in Israel. They range in class size, level, intensity of instruction, price, and quality. Additionally, some are subsidized by the government, whereas others are not. On the whole, subsidization doesn't seem to correlate with the quality of education you'll receive, but it's worth noting if the ulpan you want to enroll in are subsidized or not as this may affect tuition costs.
Some have been established for decades with highly regarded reputations, whereas others are new on the scene and are providing alternative language instruction methods. Most require multiple hours of instruction per day, as well as several days per week -- for months of total instruction. Joining an ulpan is a commitment, to be sure! Depending on your Hebrew goals, you can likely find at least one ulpan that will meet your needs.
Private instruction in Hebrew is an option throughout Israel, and some of these instructors may sometimes be classified as ulpan. Most offer one-to-one courses that cater to your specific level of Hebrew knowledge and skill. These can be a great fit for those who are wary of joining a larger classroom experience, but may come at a higher price, especially for instructors with widely known positive reputations.
Though a small country, Israel has a variety of different settings where you can immerse yourself in the culture while you learn Hebrew. The most common are larger cities, where the quality of education is more consistent and there are greater numbers of ulpan and instruction to choose from.
One of Israel's biggest cities and arguably its most hip, Tel Aviv is a hotbed for educational opportunities, from universities to a huge range of ulpan. You can even take walking tours of Tel Aviv that teach you the language through graffiti! In Tel Aviv, you'll also find the largest number of private Hebrew instruction opportunities.
If learning the history of Israel is an important part of your personal goals for learning Hebrew, consider heading to Jerusalem. It goes without saying that you'll have a chance to dive deep into different aspects of Israeli culture and history and will have plenty of ulpan and language learning opportunities to choose from.
Haifa is one of the more up-and-coming cities in Israel on several fronts: many travelers have discovered this beautiful city on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and it's part of the major technology/startup boom in the country. There are also plenty of ulpan to choose from if this is where you decide to settle and learn Hebrew.
One of the oldest cities in the country, choosing to study Hebrew at an ulpan in Beersheba is a bit like tracing the language back to its roots (though admittedly all of Israel has deep roots!). Despite its history, Be'er Sheva is also a large city and offers modern conveniences and plenty of culture.
There is no hard and fast rule for whether housing will be included with your language instruction while learning in Israel. In many larger ulpan, housing is included with the cost of tuition and is in some ways part of the complete language immersion in the school's curriculum. In many other cases, you may be expected to find housing on your own for time spent living, working, or studying Hebrew in Israel.
The cost of studying Hebrew in Israel has a large range. Naturally, tuition costs depend on classroom size, duration and intensity of the course, and the level of Hebrew you'll be studying, as well as any additional benefits that are included in your enrollment (such as room and board).
The cost of living in Israel is moderate but rising due to the tech boom the country is currently experiencing. Especially in larger cities, you can expect costs of meals, groceries, and nightlife to be on par with most Western European and North American cities.
Scholarships are not widely common, though you may have some success in finding funding for your education in your home country. For example, some Jewish communities may support members who choose to move to Israel for educational purposes, so it's worth researching if you qualify for something like this. Otherwise, you may be able to apply for general education or language learning scholarships.
If you originally intend to visit Israel and are unsure if you will enroll in an ulpan while there, many countries allow you to visit for up to 90 days without needing a visa. If you enroll and intend to stay longer, a visitor visa will be sufficient for most students to allow you to learn Hebrew while exploring Israel. If you end up requiring a student visa for some reason, be sure to consult both your ulpan and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs to learn which application materials you'll need to submit.
Israel is a diverse and at times tumultuous country, though most foreigners have a wonderful time while traveling or studying there. It's best to be conscientious of social practices and religious sensitivities, as these are the most likely areas where you can commit an accidental offense. On the whole, Israel is relatively progressive, but as a student, it's always best to err on the side of caution and safety.