gap year in israel

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Hi, my name is Elizabeth Doty, but everyone calls me “Shea”. I am from Dallas, Texas, and I am currently living in Tel Aviv, embarking on my second semester of Aardvark Israel.

I never could have predicted how impactful these past five months were going to be on me when I initially signed up, last winter. Going to a small Jewish school for your entire life really takes a toll on your experiences; said toll is sometimes referred to as “the bubble”. From preschool to twelfth grade, I was encased in the bubble, sheltered from the world and all it had to offer. In fact, until this year, I had never even left the United States. Then, after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease on my sixteenth birthday, my bubble shrunk to the size of my bedroom. From that day on, I became more and more sheltered from the world, and after spending most of my senior year cooped up in and out of hospitals, I decided I needed to take a year to explore anything and everything outside of the four walls of Medical City Dallas. That is when I found Aardvark Israel.

From my amazing internships last semester at ALYN Hospital and TheBloc Jerusalem, to my formative experience in the sand dunes on our trip to Kibbutz Ketura, Aardvark has given me exactly what I was looking for and more. Interacting with Israelis on the streets and within my internship, meeting members from all different cultures within the “salad bowl” of Israel on Tiyul Tuesdays or Wednesday nights, and traveling to the Czech Republic and Italy all contribute to the decomposition of my bubble.

More than all of that, my Aardvark Israel journey has been about the small, seemingly insignificant things that occur in my everyday life: the gray couches in the apartments that have seen too many late nights watching movies and football games, the kitchens that will probably never be fully cleansed of cranberry apple pie and fried chicken poppers from Shabbat, the big, red TED talk letters that left everyone rolling on the floor laughing, and the roof of Usishkin that set the stage for many stargazing sessions, dance parties, and deep conversations that would shape me into the person I have grown to become and turned friends into family.

As the second semester begins, I am excited by the thought of having the ability to do it all over again in a place as unique as Florentine. I can’t wait to make new memories, fall in love with my new internship at the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled, and connect with people from all over the world on a deeper level that I could never have even imagined. Granted, this new place and the fact that my Jerusalem family has almost doubled in size definitely scares me, so a piece of advice I’ve been trying to adhere to, and I’d like to share with potential students, is this: you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there and soak up everything that this program, and this country, has to offer. So many of my favorite memories have come from spontaneity and risk, as well as signing up for activities that didn’t seem appealing at first, but turned out to be some of the best events. You only get one year in Israel, one year to try everything, to meet people you probably would have never met, to find yourself. All it takes is one year to have your life change forever, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision on where I decided to spend it.

Gap year in israel - aardvarkisrael