There is no single thing at the Ulpan that is overwhelmingly irritating, but there are enough "little things" which, if they occur in close succession, can strain my inner circuitry. I'm an introvert which means that my batteries, unlike those of extroverts, who seem to run on Energizers, require daily - if not more frequent - recharging. And over the years I've become accustomed to creating my own schedule, relative quiet, and social interactions that involve just a few people at a time. I do like people, just not in large quantities simultaneously.
The Ulpan has been hard on the nerves of yours truly, who is not just an introvert but a sensitive one at that. Meals are noisy and not terribly relaxed affairs, at pre-established times that have little to do with my natural rhythms or pacing. A few tables have been reserved for Ulpan students (when we try to sit elsewhere they herd us back!), and over time the forced companionship, three times a day, can start to suffocate, if not bore. There are some singularly challenging individuals who deliver soliloquies and/or dispense unsolicited advice in authoritarian tones, insisting on speaking English even though they are ostensibly here for Hebrew immersion. After some trial and mostly error, at these times I've learned to keep quiet, which means I keep eating, which has not been so great for keeping my waistline in check.
Meanwhile, providing background vocals, are the few hundred Latin American youth who, at best, are a spirited group and, at worst, rude and disruptive, forgetting that they share the space with others. The banging of trays and clanging of plates and utensils creates a continuous percussive din, accentuated by increasingly frequent shouting and yelling.
Breakfast and lunch bookend the classes, which are punctuated by a nerve rattling and raspy electronic bell that announces when a class or a break begins or ends. By the time classes are over for the day, the bell has sounded eight excruciating times. By mid-afternoon, it's time to get steamed.
The saving grace of the Ulpan is that it shares its campus with a health club. As an "internal" student (inmate?), I have access (Baruch Ha'shem!) to the clean but modest facilities. During my first visit I used the pool, not realizing that the club also had a sauna and steam room. After my second swim I stepped into the steam room, and the intense heat and heavy wet air took my breath away. But I stayed long enough for it to work its magic on me, melting much of the accumulated tension from my body and mind. After getting steamed I can face this small corner of the world again, at least for the next 24 hours.