Meet Our Students: Joanie Umscheid

Joanie! I can’t believe you haven’t been my student yet. I feel like I’ve seen you so many times in practice groups and masterclasses…
I know, me neither!

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, Northern California, with my 2 labrador retrievers and my husband. Our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter live about 10 minutes away, which is totally amazing.I’ve been in Citizen for almost a year and a half now (since March 2022). I just started my 6th semester – second semester of Dark Green. I started in Yellow.

And what do you do in your life?
I (finally, thank God) retired 3 years ago at 67, and I’m blissfully busier than ever with family, classes, volunteering, and occasionally assisting a former client. I’d been a professional recruiter in the finance and accounting space for about 22 years, and for the last couple of years of my career, I was asked to develop a mentorship program for staffing professionals to improve their performance. I conducted individual, one-hour online sessions with up to 45 staffing professionals per week. That project really made me think about which “roads” lead to improvement. So I would constantly ask myself: Do they feel inspired? Has their passion for their business been re-kindled? I had to make sure people are really taking in what I’m saying, and because of that I found a connection to the Citizen Café teaching method.

In what sense? Can you elaborate?
Elaborate? Me? Of course! I lived in Israel for about two years from age 14 to 16, and I learned like a kid would learn – no ulpan, no reading, just speaking quickly. Then I came back to the United States and, sadly, I forgot almost everything I’d learned because I had no one to speak Hebrew with. During the pandemic I began reconnecting with things from my childhood, and one thing I really wanted to do was re-claim my Hebrew. I studied online in some free and almost free Ulpanim, as well as with a tuition-based online Hebrew school. Those roads weren’t leading me to improved Hebrew skills, but they did lead me to Citizen Café. I was really intrigued by the 1:1 assessment with a teacher. I thought it was so unique and at the same time, so simple. I remember the first few minutes of my first class in Yellow, I thought to myself: what the hell have I done? I can’t do this, it’s too fast! And then I realized I was actually speaking Hebrew in that very first class. Citizen’s approach to teaching Hebrew brings the same values that I tried to bring as a mentor. That being, where there is inspiration, passion and tools – improvement happens organically.

And was it the same group of people moving with you from Yellow to Dark Green?
Yes; a lot of us have moved forward together – some have even been together since Red and Orange; and others of us from Yellow or Blue to Dark Green. Although we’re from different backgrounds and different places around the world, there’s an energy, a chemistry, a closeness, that makes our classes a lot of fun. We sometimes forget we’re being recorded. One time in our Dark Green class, a student renamed himself a verb that we’d learned in class and the idea went viral – we all decided to name ourselves a verb or phrase from class. When our teacher, Shani (who has a great sense of humor), started the class, she thought it was hilarious and very creative. In the end it’s all about connection to each other and to the language that keeps us together.

Has it ever bothered you not to know Hebrew? Because I get a sense from you that Hebrew was something you’ve learned at a young age but hasn’t been an active part of your life until recent years.
Honestly, I think it’s bothered me the entire intervening years since coming home to the U.S. I want my Hebrew back, just for me, for my soul. I’d like to be able to speak Hebrew as fluently as possible.

What’s your best advice for someone who just started learning the language?
First, figure out what your goal is, and if it’s to actually speak Hebrew, find a school that will get you speaking on day one, and that will also give you lots of room to practice. Practice. Engage. Make mistakes out loud; sound silly. Just open your mouth. Know that you’re surrounded by people who are in the same boat as you, and they are more than willing to support you, so let them.

Last question – what is a word or phrase in Hebrew that you feel is missing in your native language?
Well, of course, there’s a story here too. I think the phrase “Squeezing the juice out of someone” לסחוט את המיץ (lees-choht eht hah-meets) is definitely missing in English. I do have a tendency to “encourage” people – in a good way – בקטע טוב (beh-keh-tah tohv) 😉, to do things that they may or may not exactly want to do, so to speak. There’s a great guy in my last semester class who mentioned that he was going to take a break between semesters, and because we are very close friends, I told him: “No you’re not; you are not taking a break!”. So I asked

Shalom, !

Shalom, !