The majority of the students in the Ulpan are new immigrants (not tourists like me), many of whom are French or come from Francophone countries. (Russian speakers are the second largest group). It was surprising and inspiring to see that most of them are over the age of 40, with children and grandchildren, and are making a courageous change in their lives. The growing anti-Semitism in France is one reason that many are here. One French citizen, who was hidden during the war and had to leave her native Belgium, told me that she wanted to move to Israel before she was "pushed out" again. Others have harbored a dream of living in Israel for most of their lives and are now able to realize it, or have come to be near their children. One young looking grandmother from Luxembourg told me she came to Israel to start her life anew after getting divorced.
The stories are many, and I hope to hear more of them.
Meanwhile, les Francaises have a certain nonchalance about their Hebrew studies, failing to show up on time, complete homework, or respect the teacher in class. Astonishingly, the teacher (more like a Commander) has even had to separate them, reminding me of the first time I was in Hebrew school.... when I was eight years old. It's not quite the classroom atmosphere that I was expecting, nor did I anticipate having to dust off my high school French in order to help my classmates understand the Hebrew lesson. I may not be speaking Hebrew very well yet, but at least I'm having a chance to practice a foreign language.
C'est la vie!