gap year in israel

Hello, my name is Howie Scharlin and I’m from Miami, Florida. Next year I am starting at Tufts University in the fall. I am in the Aardvark Israel Big Idea program, and since the beginning of September, I’ve been living in Jerusalem. I am so excited that I will be in Israel for another 6 months, and from January onwards, I will be living in Tel Aviv.

Let me tell you a story. I was a lost and tired teenager, and some may say I still am, but while I was quarantining at home with my family this past year, I did not do much. To me, a day was just something that you started so you could get over with. Only in retrospect do I see how much I was wasting my days at home, and who could blame me? Quarantine was tough and a lot of things my loved ones and I wanted to do were cancelled, but this required us to do some outside-the-box thinking.

My mom had brought up the idea of taking a gap year in Israel multiple times while I was in high school, and every time she did I told her the same thing. “Yes Mom, sure, I will look into it.” And every time, I never looked into it. I completely shrugged her off (I’m sorry Mom, I was an idiot. It will take me a few more years to realize you and Dad are always right). Anywho, I was in the car with my family in June and my Mom brought it up again to me. That is when I seriously considered it for the first time.

I only know a few people who have taken a gap year, and only one who had done one in Israel, so going was not something I ever imagined would be part of my journey. During the sign up process I felt like I was taking a huge leap of faith, but I didn’t think about it too hard, because I knew I would’ve thought of too many roadblocks or ridiculous “what if’s” for why I shouldn’t go.

Three months into my time in Israel, I can confidently say I made the right decision. I have brought purpose back to my days. Now I value my time as I am learning just how much you can do with your time if you don’t go through life just to get by.

Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about some fun stuff. To all of you who know your Jerusalem geography, my apartment is 50 steps from Shuk Mahane Yehuda. I am not one to brag, and I value my humility, but this has to be the best location I could ever imagine. We are 1 minute from the light rail stop, a 5-minute ride to the Old City, a 5-minute ride from the central bus station, a 5-minute walk to Ben Yehuda street, we have a bus stop right outside our door, our view is incredible; I can go on for a very long time about why else my apartment is perfect, but that is not how you structure a balanced blog post. So, I am cutting it here, but I will probably end up talking about it again later. Just a warning.

Now you know where I live; let’s talk about how I live. Being in Big Idea @ Aardvark Israel means I do not have an internship for my first semester. Instead, I take coding class every day. It is not for everybody, but if you have even the smallest interest in coding or technology you might want to give it consideration. I am currently working on making my own social media website in the computer language JSX. I already had prior coding experience, but some of my classmates had none. Regardless, everybody learns a lot, and everybody progresses with each other. We have a lot of group projects, which is amazing, because that way you go at the pace of your group, ensuring no one falls behind.

Apart from my classes, we also have tiyulim (trips) once a week, which usually include a hike or a tour. I know it sounds like I’m writing this to make Aardvark Israel look enticing, but between you and me, honestly, every tiyul I have been on has been an amazing experience. I either learn a lot about a part of Israel I know little about, or I see a beautiful part of Israel I’ve never been to. Most tiyulim include both. For example, this week we had a humbling experience at Mt. Hertzl, learning about the sacrifices made for the state of Israel. This was all juxtaposed by the serene, well-kept landscaping that made the visit both peaceful and somber.

During my free time, I try to do things that I would not normally do. I love to see different parts of Israel. Last weekend, I was in Haifa for a night. It was beautiful, and I highly recommend it. And I love to see different parts of Jerusalem. What is annoying to me is that I have everything I need so close to my apartment so it has been hard to motivate myself to stray from where I’m comfortable, but I have so much free time, so I can’t complain. Did I mention I really love where I live?

Finally, in the manual for writing about your gap year, it says you can’t write about your gap year without mentioning the people. I have met people from every corner and nook and cranny in the world. My roommate is from Minnesota! I wasn’t even sure people actually lived there. I have learned so much from being around a large number of unique people. I have learned how much being around genuine friends can help you get the most out of your time in life. Having full control of what I am doing and who I am hanging out with has taught me a lot about what I want in life. And I know I will continue learning more about myself for the rest of my time in Israel and for the rest of my life. In a lot of ways, I have grown and matured, and I am on my journey of progressing as an adult that will continue, god willing, for a very long time.

And now let’s talk about the staff. My madrich Omer is the best. Our relationship is exactly what I need on this trip. He is there for me to give advice, for somebody to talk to, to hang out with, and many more things. (I can keep going on about him too) Omer, along with all the staff, are so easy to talk to and to learn from that I feel truly blessed that they are here with me.  Long story short, everybody at Aardvark Israel is good people.

I want to tell you what has been my motto in life, and what continues to be in Israel. “Do it.” I think about it whenever I am feeling lazy, or know I need to do something that is difficult. Being completely independent this year, this phrase is where I have drawn my inspiration from to motivate myself, and it also inspired me to come here in the first place. To everybody out there reading this, I only have two things to say to you. “Happy Hanukkah” and also “Do it.”