So, the ulpan
After meeting the unfriendly staff at the secretariat, I set of to take the test. It was an interesting event with a colourful multi-national group of people. Ulpan Gordon has plenty of space for people to assemble. There are tables, chairs and benches outside and inside. So dozens of us were looking around and initiating first interactions with people coming here for the same purpose.
We are lead to a big classroom and greeted by a teacher who first speaks Hebrew and only then translates. Ulpan Gordon is known for its 'Hebrew from the start' orientation, and people who recommended it to me said that teachers try to enact or explain words and phrases, and use English only at the last resort. So, we are asked how many of us know the past and future tenses. Those receive intermediate exam sheets, others are given 'aleph' (beginners') exam sheets.
Interestingly enough, the test includes a conversation with the teacher, and it has to take place after the test. So 40 or so people are lined up accordint to the time they finished the written test and wait for the conversation. The first ones take long, and others are frustrated, tired and leave. It's an option, too, - the teacher can call them on the phone. Yet I think that whenever learning a new language, speaking it on the phone is always more of a challenge. So I wait and talk to people. Some have interesting stories to tell. Ulpan Gordon attracts both students and olim (immigrants with a 'birthright' to settle in Israel). Some of them are super-enthusiastic about Israel, some already critical. Some have just arrived, others have tried one city or two before moving to Tel Aviv. And then there are wives and girlfriends (haven't met any husbands of boyfriends yet) of Israelis. Everyone has a story why they need Hebrew. I don't - I admit I only need it for social life.
So people socialise, go back and forth, some express their frustration over having to wait, some don't mind. Finally it's my turn, I have a some kind of conversation in Hebrew and get assigned to a class. When I go to ask about the prices and other things at the secretariat, they are more welcoming. Probably because I already have a sheet from the teacher and hence become more of a client than a curious passer-by.