gap year in israel

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WHAT. A. YEAR. it has been. Before I came to the program, my life was perfectly stable; I had a job, I was always with my friends, and my family was always around to support me. One thing that I knew is that I felt a strong connection to Israel. I grew up coming here, going down to the Moshav in the south of Israel, where my grandparents live. Initially, I didn’t want to do a gap year because that wasn’t something that people from Birmingham, Alabama, do. Parents, teachers, and friends expect everyone that graduates from my high school to go to the University of Alabama and come right back to Birmingham and stay there forever. However, I was different, and at the time, I was a little bit upset that my parents thought it was best that I do a gap year. So until I got on the plane to Israel, I didn’t want to believe that I was leaving behind so many memories, friends, and family to start over in a place where I didn’t know a single person.

When I landed in Israel, I waited for what felt like forever in the Ben Gurion Airport. I was surrounded by a ton of people who I did not know and who did not know me. Once we left the airport, I got onto a bus which took me and a few other girls to our new home, Nahalat Binyamin Street 149. When I tell y’all that the first day was unbearably hot, it was 100 degrees, I was pulling 70 pounds of luggage all by myself from Levinsky 39, with Harel next to me wearing his classic button down with flowers and white high socks. I knew I was in for a treat.

To say the least, I loved living in Tel Aviv. From hopping on a scooter to stopping at Eazy cafe to spending a whole day at the beach to running back to be in time for class, it seemed that life in Tel Aviv was just the perfect amount of chaos. Not only did I learn that I could make great friends, but I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t cook anything other than grilled cheese or Nutella oats. Thanks to Priva, I was pretty well fed in our apartment.

Switching over to the second semester was an adjustment. Even though I had moved cities with mostly the same friends, Tel Aviv could not have been more different than Jerusalem. I was now in a predominantly more religious area with a much more relaxed feeling than Tel Aviv. At first, I was a little skeptical, but in little to no time, I grew to love the change. During the first two weeks, my days consisted of making breakfast and sitting on the porch with my roommates, grocery shopping in the shuk picking out the best cream cheese and lox, sitting outside with Eitan and talking for hours, Alma soup every night, and growing closer with my roommates. I realized quickly during my time in Jerusalem that there is something special in the air here. From Gan Sacher to the Kotel, there was a sense of spirituality in the city. Reflecting over the past few months, I realized that the instability I may have felt in the first couple of weeks of the program, navigating my way through Israel and living on my own is now one of the most fulfilling rewards of my life. Being on Aardvark has allowed me to push my limits and step outside of my comfort zone.

All in all, I have memories that I will carry with me forever, but the most special is the friendships I have made. It is crazy to me that nine months ago, we were all strangers from opposite corners of the world, each with unique stories and perspectives, and today, after a few hikes and events we’re all one community. No one else can say that they were a part of Aardvark 2022-2023. Something I’ve learned this year is that the best friendships come from the people you least expect. People and friendships usually arrive just when we need them. They teach us a lesson, teach us something about ourselves, help us cope, see more clearly, and change our perspective. Although some friendships and relationships are temporary it does not, in any way, make them less important or less significant. Aardvark has given us the opportunity to have a family all over the world, if it’s from South America, Canada, the UK, South Africa, Australia, and the US you have people everywhere.

9 months have been summed up in a total of three minutes and thirty seconds which doesn’t exemplify what this year has meant to me. The biggest thing that I have taken away is that taking a big risk results in a bigger reward. Meaning, when I got on the plane to Israel I was taking a risk in itself, but it was over-passed by the amount of reward in my friendships, experiences, hardships, and identity I have concurred along the way. Throughout the semester I’ve noticed a visible transformation in how our maturity has shifted individually and as a group; learning from one another, lifting each other up, and being there when someone is hurting. Over this past year, we’ve grown, lived, and loved each other as a family does. As we finish our year together and move along with our own separate lives, I want to leave you guys with a quote from a poem called, temporary people, “It is important to stop, remember, and thank these temporary people who may not be present in our daily lives, but for a small moment, sometimes in space in time – they were an eternity for us.”

Thank you all for everything and for giving me the best year of my life.