As a child, Sam Stack's favorite family tradition was waking up early with his dad on Sundays to watch auto races on TV. Years later, only a sophomore at Virginia Tech, he spent his Sundays building and designing professional race cars for an Israeli startup in Tel Aviv.
Stack, a mechanical engineering major, never thought he’d intern for a company like Griiip, which builds cars for international race competitions. His participation in the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers, a collegiate-level competition that challenges teams to design race cars, prepared him for the summer internship.
At Griiip, Stack designed three-dimensional cars on his computer and used his English skills to create user-manuals that drivers around the world could read.
“Engineers need to gain experience in the field,” he said. “What you learn in school is not what you’d learn in the workplace.”
Stack was a recent participant in Hillel Onward Israel, which immerses American students in Israel for a summer or winter internship in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. The program also includes educational activities, professional development sessions and trips throughout the country.
“I did a lot of work I didn’t expect to be doing, in the best way possible,” he said.
Hillel International has run its own Onward Israel cohort for six years. The program is for college students who have already participated in a short-term Israel program, such as Birthright Israel.
Participants pay a highly subsidized program fee, depending on the program, plus the cost of airfare. This summer, there were over 200 interns cosponsored by Hillel International. Onward Israel works with dozens of organizations and companies such as Deloitte, Magen David Adom and various government ministries to place students in the internships they want.
Senior Jeannette Yust knew she wanted to return to Israel after she went on a Birthright Israel trip. The Onward Israel experience, she said, allowed her to work in child psychology, a field that was applicable to her studies at the University of Delaware.
Yust interned at Alyn Hospital, caring for Arab children with a wide range of disabilities. She initially struggled to communicate with the staff and children, but she learned to speak conversational Hebrew and Arabic by the end of the summer.
Her experiences interacting with children have inspired her to continue working in child psychology after she graduates with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and human services. Yust said she would love to move to Israel and work at Alyn.
“The program gave me the real Israel experience, rather than the tourist experience,” she said.
Sophomore Zach Epstein, who served on the Hillel International Student Cabinet since 2019, said he gained a broader perspective on diverse areas within the Israeli tech industry.
During his summer internship at Start-Up Nation Central, Epstein connected underrepresented populations, including women and Haredi men, to the agri-tech industry in Jerusalem through educational workshops.
Epstein, who’s studying Jewish studies and interdisciplinary studies at the University of Texas-Austin, said that he felt like a part of the team, often participating in the company-wide meetings and events.
Aside from the internship, Epstein tried to participate in all the Onward Israel programs to meet other interns and explore the country. His favorite activity was the Outdoor North Shabbaton, where he got to camp in northern Israel and connect with the other Onward Israel participants.
“Someone might be looking for a good life experience or a great internship, this offers both,” Epstein said.
Rocky Baier, who interned as a reporter at The Jerusalem Post last summer, said her Onward Israel experience helped her “refine” her journalism skills. She said the stories she covered for the paper, including a front page story on a Tel Aviv protest in support of LGBT rights, prepared her for future work in journalism.
Baier, a senior at the University of Arizona, said since returning from Israel, she has served as news editor of her student newspaper and currently holds an apprenticeship with The Arizona Daily Star, where she works with reporters who cover the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Journalism is one of those fields where I personally think you learn much more in the field than you do in the classroom,” she said. “I really love the University of Arizona, but I think that I personally have learned more from student media and all my internships.”
To pre-register for a Hillel Onward Israel experience in summer 2020, complete this form. Please email questions to Paula Harlan, associate director of Immersive Israel Experiences at Hillel International, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was written by Yogev Ben-Yitschak and Lizzie Mintz.