gap year in israel

Alumni of the Month - Ashleigh Harris

People often ask me how I would describe my gap year. Well, in order to answer that question, I need to venture back to about a year ago on one of our weekly Tiyul Tuesday trips. The three-hour bus ride from Tel Aviv took us to the Golan Heights where our tour guide, Daniel, recounted Israel’s unfathomable victory during the Six-Day War. Things were not looking too good for Israel and, as a last resort, Israeli tanks were rotated up and down the mountain, giving the illusion of a greater number of IDF tanks than there were. Despite being outnumbered ten to one, the Israeli army recaptured the Golan, ending the Six-day war. In finishing his recount, Daniel said he could only sum it up in one word: “crazy”. And that, he continued, is what you should tell people when asked about your Gap Year.
I can’t think of a better word to encapsulate my 2020 year away. From trying to skilfully avoid the torrents of water flowing down the streets in Tel Aviv winter (but always ending up with wet shoes…), to frantically chasing sheep on a mountainside of a rural farm, I can confidently say my journey lived up to the ‘crazy’ expectations! On top of that, being in lockdown in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language served only to reinforced the insane year ahead of me.
The program did not hesitate when the lockdown was announced and immediately switched all our classes to interactive online activities. Our madrichim were incredible, coming over to our apartments, keeping us entertained, and always leaving with some wise words of wisdom. I cannot thank them enough for their support.
So why did I choose Aardvark Israel? When I was looking at Gap Year programs, I originally did not want to go to Israel. I mean, I have been there before and will probably go again so I thought I could use this time to explore other parts of the world. However, the program’s international trips and the chance to meet people from all over the globe drew me in. Six months later I found myself in a small apartment in Israel, not able to venture more than 100m away and all hopes of exploring Italy, Germany, Nepal, and America squashed. Despite this, it never once occurred to me to leave. What better way to challenge yourself than to dive headfirst into a pandemic on the other side of the globe?
I am so glad that I decided to stay. Not only did my independence and self-confidence flourish, but through Aardvark Israel’s volunteering program, I gained experience in the animal husbandry field. Working in a horse riding centre was something I had never previously considered doing and loved every minute! Volunteering at S.O.S Pets, a dog rescue centre, I gained first-hand experience handling nervous dogs who were in the process of adjusting to people. By far my favourite position was working at the Israeli Guide Dogs. Those were my favourite mornings as I knew thirty golden Labrador puppies would be waiting for me. Ohhhh, they were just gorgeous!! From a couple of days old to six weeks old, those puppies never got less cute, in fact, I think they just kept on gaining in cuteness!
After returning home to Melbourne, Australia, I have started studying at Melbourne University doing a Bachelor of Science and am hoping to get into Veterinary Science. Through the experience I gained during those volunteering positions, I was able to find work at an Emergency Veterinary Hospital. This has given me an insight into what my future could look like and I can’t wait to get there!
The Aardvark Israel program provided the tools and support required to guide us through our personal learning experience. Our madrichim encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone and see what person we could become away from the safety of home.
My year away highlighted the innate beauty of our world and put into perspective the everyday things I took for granted.
Thank you to everyone who made my Israel experience as phenomenal as it was. I would not have changed a thing!