Ulpan is a 5 month, 5 day a week, 5 hour a day intensive Hebrew learning experience. It is recommended that this be the first thing you do upon making aliyah, and if that is not an option, then make a plan as to when you are going to do ulpan within the first 2 years of aliyah. It is very difficult to acclimate and to feel at home when you don’t know the language. Every Oleh gets the benefit of a free 5 month ulpan. You need to sign up for an ulpan within the first 18 months of aliyah, but can continue studying after that period (in my experience this cutoff is flexible). Ulpan will be what you make of it. If you commit yourself, work outside of class and aren’t embarrassed about making mistakes you will be able to improve your Hebrew drastically.
There are many options when it comes to ulpan, throughout the country. The following are options Tzevet Klita feels are most relevant for habonim dror olim:
Kibbutz Ulpan: This is ulpan that includes Hebrew classes and room and board on a kibbutz. The one that many Habonim olim have done is at Kibbutz Maagan Michael. The kibbutz will provide you with a meal stipend, a room shared with 2 other participants, a moadon with computers and internet access, laundry and leisure activities on the kibbutz and trips and tiyulim off of the kibbutz. The structure of this experience is half day work, half day study. One week you will study in the morning and work in the afternoon, and the next it will switch. The cost to participate in this ulpan is $200 with a possible registration fee. There are many other choices for kibbutz ulpan. http://www.kibbutzprogramcenter.org/programs/kibbutz-ulpan-program/
The advantages of kibbutz ulpan are that you in a good setting and environment to really learn, the disadvantages are that you are somewhat cut off from the rest of the movement during the time you are there.
Ulpan Etzion: This ulpan is an intensive 5 month ulpan which hold its students to a high standard. The classes take place 5 days a week from 8:30am-1pm and is located on Rehov HaNamal near the Marcaz HaShmona train station. You are expected to attend all classes, for the whole five months and complete the final test at the end of the five months. There is little flexibility to do other things that will take you away from the ulpan. The ulpan offers residence for its participants. The accommodations are furnished 4 room apartments, kitchenette with a microwave, fridge, toaster, oven and cooking range, air conditioning and wireless internet. Participants must bring their own towels and bedding. There is one meal provided each day. There are coin operated laundry machines. Socially, the ulpan attracts a diverse group of participants from many different countries. This encourages everyone to speak Hebrew as there is no concrete common language and stimulates a fun social environment. Fall sessions start in October after the holidays; spring semester starts in May. If you have already studied at the ulpan you can continue for 100 shekels a month. Ulpan Etzion is a great option for those who can devote 5 months to learning Hebrew full-time.
Ulpan Abba Hushi: This is a small ulpan in Haifa near the German Colony. Classes are covered by olim benefits, as well as the course book. The classes are in the morning from 8:15am-12:45pm. The positive side of it being small is that it is more flexible. Teachers understand that people have other commitments and are not upset if you need to miss class. The negative side is that there is not a wide range of classes. Many of the classes are beginner classes. The higher level had a range of levels within it and realistically should have been 2 classes. The lower levels run on a 5 month semester system but you can join at any point and then retest at the start of the next semester and complete your 5 month benefit at a later time. The higher level class is also rolling admission but does not have a 5 month limit. The class does take a short vacation when the rest of the ulpan is out if session. When you finish your time in the ulpan you have the option of taking a final test and receiving a certificate of completion indicating which level you completed and with what grade. Most of the participants are Russian which makes the social experience difficult.
University of Haifa: not covered by olim benefits. There is a summer and winter one month intensive ulpan. You will study for 5 days a week, 5 hours a day and there will be social activities offered every afternoon, including hikes and trips off campus. The cost for this ulpan is $1250. They also have a 3-4 month ulpan which is 4 days a week, 2 hours each morning, which costs $900. The winter intensive ulpan takes place in January. July Intensive Hebrew Ulpan will start on July 8- August 1, 2013. The August Intensive Hebrew Ulpan will start on August 5- August 29, 2013.