Like many young people, it took Raphael Falk a while to find his place in the world. He grew up in Berkeley and Oakland, but never felt quite at home in the U.S. Spending a high school semester in Israel was transformative for Raphael. He returned to Israel for another year after high school, followed by seven years studying and teaching in Korea.

Raphael recently moved back to the Bay Area to be closer to his family, bringing with him a new sense of self, forged from his experiences overseas. He’s become fluent in Korean, completed a bachelor’s degree in translation and interpretation from Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and is about to release a tabletop role-playing game he created, which is called Lucid: Sea of Dreams.

“Even though I was an ocean away from my Jewish community, Hebrew Free Loan was there for me when I needed financial help. It was my home away from home. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of these things without the interest-free loans from Hebrew Free Loan.”

His game, Lucid, reflects Raphael’s Jewish roots, with players moving through a fantasy dream world in which they encounter a variety of creatures — many of which were inspired by demons and spirits from Jewish folklore. Working on the project had special meaning for Raphael while he was in Korea, where he was almost always the only Jew anyone had ever met. He felt comfortable and accepted, but needed to stay connected to his Jewish identity too.

It was in Israel as a teenager that Raphael first felt a true sense of belonging. The welcome he experienced there as a Jew gave him a powerful sense of being at home that became a touchstone in the years to come. Studying in Israel also introduced him to Hebrew Free Loan for the first time. Raphael’s semester was offered through NFTY, the reform Jewish youth movement, but the costs were a lot for his family to manage. They received an interest-free general needs loan that helped pay for the NFTY program.

Raphael landed in Korea a few years later almost by chance. He tried a few colleges in the U.S. after his time in Israel, but wasn’t excited by his studies. And he didn’t want to accrue debt just for the sake of a degree. At a friend’s suggestion, Raphael joined a program to teach English in a small city in the Korean countryside, where he was paid well and received free housing.

Raphael originally thought he would earn some money, learn Korean, and return to the U.S for college in a year. But he loved it there, and he made good friends through language meetups in which he practiced his Korean and his new friends practiced their English. He decided to stay for another year, and then made a commitment to himself that he wouldn’t leave until he was fluent in Korean.

Raphael wanted to enroll at Hankuk University in Seoul to complete his BA degree, but paying for it was a challenge, since federal student loans aren’t available for study at Korean universities. He turned to Hebrew Free Loan again, this time receiving an interest-free student loan to help cover his tuition.

Now that he’s back in the U.S., Raphael is going through a bit of culture shock — Covid mask mandates have been in continual effect in Korea since 2020, so the world here feels very different. But he’s happy to be near his family again, excited about the coming launch of Lucid, and eager to see what the future holds. Raphael is looking for a full-time job in sales or at a nonprofit where he can utilize his teaching skills and his ability to talk easily with people from a wide range of backgrounds. He’s also celebrating the fact that he just paid off his Hebrew Free Loan!

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