Departures / Arrivals: With a pre-Nobel Prize Under Her Belt, Hanan Heads to Germany to Conquer Medicine

Swiss-born Joval returns to Israel after two years traveling - though to be honest, he'd rather stay abroad.

Hanan el-Sana, 18, from Be’er Sheva; flying to Frankfurt, Germany

There seems to be a lot of emotion here: Dad, Mom, two daughters. Who’s traveling?

Hanan: I am, to Frankfurt, and from there to Hanover, to study German. I have relatives there, too.

For how long?

I hope to go for a year at least. I want to study medicine and work in research. I am going because of age considerations: Here you have to wait until 21 to study medicine. I want to try to get into school in Germany, but you have to do the German equivalent of the psychometric exam and be tested in your knowledge of German, so first it’s necessary to study the language.

Your mother whispered something to you and you look frightened, so I feel I should ask what she said.

Hanan: She wants me to tell you about the competition I won.

What competition?

I won first prize in an international competition called First Step to Nobel Prize in Physics.

Mother is always right. What did you win it for?

I did research in thermodynamics, about frost heave. When buildings are erected on ground that is affected by cold ‏(such as in Russia and Canada‏), the surface of the ground sometimes rises and wrecks the building. We wrote a program that makes it possible to forecast this process and prevent destruction.

Is there a lot of ice in Be’er Sheva?

I was given three subjects to choose from, and this one interested me more than finding a numerical solution for a physical problem. I wanted to do something more real.

I had a very good supervisor who helped me very much. His name is Leonid Bronfenbrener. He is 80 years old, from Russia, and has written six books on the subject. In Israel, my project won second place.

What did you get?

An iPad. But that’s not important. We worked on the study for two years. It took me a lot of time, because I had to learn C Sharp programming language, even though we wrote the program in C‏+‏+, a programming language that is closer to science.

Taking this competition into account, why did you decide to study medicine and not physics?

The two fields are very close. The way our body works is actually physics.

What did you study in high school?

I did five units [the highest level in the matriculation exams] in physics and five in computers, but that’s no big deal, because I went to a special school for excellence in the sciences.

I studied for the psychometric exam and the matriculation exams and the competition all at the same time. I didn’t have much spare time. I was in school from 8 A.M. to 2 P.M., with the supervisor from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M. and from 5:30 P.M. until 10 P.M. I took a psychometric preparation course.

Wasn’t it hard for you?

No, it was fun. It was interesting.

What are you reading?

Ahead of the trip I read books about Germany. For the flight, I am taking “Work Hard. Be Nice,” a nonfiction book about two teachers [who founded a chain of schools in the U.S.]; the other is “Jane Eyre.” I love that book and plan to reread it. Here, look.

You’re reading it in English.

Yes. We lived in the United States when I was in the fifth to the seventh grades. My father taught architecture, and we lived in Virginia. That’s why English is easy for me.

What was it like going to school in the United States?

I have been in all kinds of education systems: Jewish, American and Arabic. Until the fourth grade, I went to school in Kibbutz Shoval. After that I was in the United States, and then in Israel, I attended an Arabic school. That was the hardest transition, because it is a culture that is very different from what I am used to. The transition from the kibbutz to the United States wasn’t easy, either. In the kibbutz, everything is very easygoing. There aren’t many rules. But in the United States, I suddenly had to wear a school uniform, and if you want to go to the washroom during a class the teacher asks you what you are doing. It was really scary.

What is your dream?

I haven’t gotten there yet.

What do the parents dream?

Dad: For her to dream freely, by herself.

Ziv Ben Ami, 27, and Joval Linhardt, 26, from Holon; Joval is arriving from Basel, Switzerland

Your bags look heavy.

Joval: I’ve just returned to Israel after two years abroad. I traveled in South America and spent a year in Switzerland. The truth is I didn’t want to come back now. That wasn’t the plan.

What was the plan?

Last year I was supposed to begin studies in Berlin, in business administration. But a week before the start of school they asked me to send all the forms again, so I dropped the idea. Now I have come back here and I am going to study teaching technologies at the Institute of Technology in Holon. The course work includes a lot about programming, design and applications.

What did you do in Switzerland?

I worked in construction. You can earn a very high salary in Switzerland in temporary jobs. For the same thing that you get paid NIS 25-35 an hour here, you get NIS 120-130 an hour there. I did everything. I worked as an electrician, a renovator. I built fences and scaffolding. I worked in plumbing. I didn’t know much about it before I started, even though in Switzerland if you want to be a plumber you have to take three years of studies. It’s the same with being a waiter.

So how did you find work?

There’s an office there that arranges temporary jobs, and I am originally from Switzerland. I immigrated to Israel at the age of 15.

Are your parents Israeli?

My mother is a Yemenite from Israel and my father is Swiss, not Jewish.

How did they meet?

It’s quite a story. There was a Jewish couple in a village in some hole in the middle of nowhere, on a mountain − you wouldn’t believe what a hole it was − whom my father knew. He visited them and they showed him pictures of the Purim celebrations in Israel. He saw a picture of my mother and this is what he said: She will be my wife.

Dumb as it sounds, that’s what happened. So my mother was brought to that village, for him to meet her, and they met and she stayed in Switzerland and married him. They were married for 35 years and had four children. They were divorced seven years ago. She wrote a book about it, which was published in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Now she lives here.

Why was it important for you to come here, and especially to a military academy?

I would have preferred to go to a regular school, but I was alone and my Hebrew wasn’t good and what did I know? My mother wanted me to have help, for people to drill the Hebrew into me, and that was only possible in the academy. And I wanted that framework, because I wanted to do army service in the Golani Brigade and be a sniper. In the end, I underwent an operation and stayed in munitions, like a dumbbell. My brother served in Golani.

Ziv: Joval was in the army longer than any of us.

Joval: Five years in addition to three years of compulsory service.

Where do you know each other from?

Joval: I didn’t know anyone here, I was in the boarding school in Tzrifin [an army base near Ramle], with kids from all over the country, but no one from Holon. My mother took me to a girlfriend of hers who had a son and said, “Let me introduce you − this is your family,” and left.

Ziv: That guy, a friend of mine from school, took Joval to another friend and went to a soccer game. That’s how we met − through him.

Joval: They are actually my guys from high school.

Was it hard for you at first with the Israelis?

When I was 12, I was quite mature for my age. I had no problem getting along with people. And then I came to the army, where I met Druze and Russians. In Switzerland, besides the Swiss, there are only a few Yugoslavs. Here, there’s chaos without any connection to origins − everyone smashes and destroys things and shouts. Luckily, the discipline wasn’t a problem for me. I actually didn’t get such a rigid education at home, I was considered very noisy compared to others, but here I was disciplined relative to the rest. The teachers liked me. They thought to themselves: Everyone is shouting, but this one raises his hand when he wants to say something. I completed school with top marks.

Where will you live now?

I’m going back to Mom in Holon. My three siblings are in Switzerland, and two of them have children, so it’s tough for my mother. She wants everyone to come to Israel, and everyone is asking me why I’m not going back to Switzerland. I also intend to bring my girlfriend here. I met her in Switzerland, while building fences. She’s a veterinarian. She is coming to visit next month, and next year we will try to get her a visa.

Does your mother want Israeli grandchildren?

We’ll see. First we’ll start the degree studies. My girlfriend is learning Hebrew in the meantime, and if we get through these three years, then maybe. My older brother is married to a woman who is half American and half Russian. Another brother married a true-blue Swiss woman, and I am with a gentile. My mother has suffered one blow after another!