gap year in israel

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Hi I’m Sabrina Zulman from Sydney, Australia currently living in Florentine as I experience the Aardvark Israel Spring Semester in Tel Aviv! I wanted to leave my home and say goodbye to the Australian beaches to live in my homeland, Israel, before I commence my Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney next year February.

I first heard about Aardvark Israel from friends who had previously participated in the program and who preached about the incredible opportunities that the program had to offer. Throughout my high school years, I had always been sure that I wanted to take a gap year in Israel; it was just a matter of deciding on the program best suited for me. After Shani came and visited my school in Sydney and after I spoke to previous participants of Aardvark, I signed up immediately, absolutely captivated and excited about the prospect of truly living in Israel – of going to an internship, attending classes and most importantly of meeting likeminded people from all around the world.

Before Corona induced a nationwide lockdown, resulting in upset students, shortages of eggs and matza and worrying levels of cabin fever, I was interning at Sabrina Belhassen Communications and Public Relations in Ramat Gan, which provide media consulting and comprehensive PR services. Finding an internship proved more difficult than I anticipated, as I really wanted to challenge myself to apply my love of writing and interest in law in an according field. Of course, without the necessary qualifications it is difficult to find a company that will instil their trust in you off the bat and give you a prominent role in their company. My boss, Sabrina instilled a huge amount of trust in my skills both to write and communicate (maybe she trusted a fellow Sabrina), placing me in charge of contacting Greenpeace International to convince them to partner with one of her clients.

To pick a favourite moment on Aardvark would be impossible – from creating lifelong friends from America, South Africa, England, Argentina, Brazil and other corners of the globe, to a once in a lifetime experience of travelling to Ethiopia to partying in Tel Aviv – pinpointing a specific moment is an arduous process. In saying that, my international trip to Ethiopia was an absolute highlight. Aardvark provided me with a unique opportunity to travel to the developing country and witness the exceptional Ethiopian culture. Whilst almost driving into cows, donkeys and chickens on the road was definitely eventful, visiting the Ethiopian Jewish community was an experience that will remain with me as one of the most moving and unifying moments of my life. I was taken aback to witness young Jewish Ethiopians in Bnei Akiva chultzot – the same shirts that the madrichim at Bnei Akiva in Sydney wear. Whilst we may not have spoken the same language, we sang Hebrew songs such as Gesher Tzar Me’od with the children and we were connected by our religion and shared love for Israel.

I admittedly came on Aardvark with some hesitations – I wondered if my religious values or somewhat traditional ideologies would find a place amidst a supposedly irreligious and rather left wing program. I have been profoundly surprised by my own growth in learning and appreciating varying values, beliefs and opinions of other people on Aardvark of which I had previously learned to reject or look down upon. I am beyond grateful for all of my friends on Aardvark that have challenged my beliefs and values and taught me how to respect and embrace different mind-sets to my own.

As the Spring Semester comes to its conclusion, I look back upon the past four months with mixed emotions. Undeniably, they have been the greatest four months of my life and I am filled with the utmost gratitude to Aardvark for providing me the opportunity to grow as an individual, to experience living in Israel and allowing me to create lifelong friends. Of course, however, one could have never expected a worldwide pandemic to impede upon their gap year, and with the rapid spreading of coronavirus, Aardvark was put into discourse. Many of my close friends whom I thought I would be completing the program with decided to return home early and I quickly felt thrown out of my comfort zone. However, one quote shared by our Community Manager, Etai – “The magic happens outside your comfort zone”, has truly inspired me to reach outside my comfort zone and establish new and closer relationships with other people on the program. I have now signed up for the Summer Program and I can’t wait to experience an unforgettable summer in Israel with all the people on the program.

My advice for potential future Aardvarkians is to really consider what you want to get out of your gap year. Think about the areas you wish to grow in, the kind of person that you want to be at the end of your year/semester and about the people you will meet. You can never be certain about the kind of year you will have but don’t allow your doubts and fear of the unknown to blind you from one of the most incredible experiences you will have. Aardvark will teach you independence, how to explore and grow different aspects of yourself and will give you the opportunity to form lifelong friendships.