My name is Hannah Fagut, I’m originally from Syracuse, NY and now I live in Washington D.C. I did Aardvark Israel in 2011-2012. I started thinking about a gap year program in 9th grade after attending a seminar on gap years hosted by NFTY. It wasn’t something that was promoted or talked about at my high school (or Shul), in fact, it was considered voodoo then. I knew no one else at the time that had done a gap year, nor did I know anyone that was thinking about doing a “formal” gap year program – not just a year “off.” I was inspired to do a gap year because I didn’t have many opportunities to explore, meet new people, and learn about other cultures until living in Israel. High school, and suburbs in general, are fairly constructed; You can only grow so much, as a human being, in your hometown – unless you’re raised in a city. I had a travel bug and wanted to expand my mind spiritually and intellectually. I knew jumping right into college would only delay that growth further. I had a deep desire to meet and connect with people of different backgrounds before settling into yet another constructed environment.
I chose Aardvark Israel because other programs seemed very cookie-cutter at the time. Aardvark provided a deeper level of immersion that made it feel like we were truly members of Israeli society versus being in a study abroad program. Aardvark looked like it provided more freedom day-to-day, and it certainly did!
I am currently pursuing my MBA at NYU Stern while working as a Supply Chain Project Lead at VivoPower, a small UK renewable energy start-up. The project I’m leading is with a subsidiary, Tembo eLV B.V. We are building an electric conversion kit that will convert carbon-emitting Toyota trucks to electric. At this moment in time, these conversion kits are exclusively being used on trucks for the mining industry to improve subterranean work conditions and reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.
If I was asked how did Aardvark changed my life, I think asking how did it not change my life would probably be a simpler question to pose. My best friends to this day are from Aardvark. The entire program that year, everyone is family. Every person from the program has had some impact on my life today. Whether it be how I improve myself as a person, teachings that have stayed with me, memories formed together… I could go on for hours. My gap year with Aardvark Israel gave me a type of freedom that made me vulnerable in a way I had not experienced before. Not just from being away from home for the first time, but managing a budget, quickly becoming proficient in a language I barely knew, making a new city feel like home, and more. The amount of freedom Aardvark gave us forced us to forge our own paths and build our own connections with each city. We were supported when we needed it and given space to explore otherwise. That type of freedom teaches you a lot, and I’d like to think it has made me a better friend, colleague, and leader. That type of experience helps you bond with anyone from any walk of life, assimilating into a new environment. It builds a sense of belonging and togetherness.