Hey all! I’m Shaine, and I’m from small town Loveland, Colorado. Going into senior year, I didn’t realize that taking a gap year was actually an option for me. Like many, I felt so pressured to immediately figure my life out, and make a decision on a university and a major housing and….you know. I applied to two different universities, and I just knew that neither felt right. In December, a friend came back to visit after his semester abroad in Israel. His eyes lit up when he talked about his experience. I couldn’t help but breath in every word he said. After thinking it over, I decided to begin my research on programs. That’s when I found Aardvark, a program built on independence, internships, and fun. I was hooked, and signed up later that week.
Currently I am working at two different internships. At my kindergarten, I work with kids with special needs, and at the horse farm I tend to the horses. I go two days a week to each, which is nice because it gives me a breather from each when I need it. At the kindergarten, I get to interact with all the kids and learn about each individually. What they like, dislike, their different behaviors, and how to interact with them. At the horse farm, it’s a mix of harder labor, helping with riding lessons, and taking lessons of my own. Many times we’ll get groups of kids with different disabilities, and help them learn about and understand the horses, and then let them ride. While each of my volunteers differ, each will hold a very special place in my heart for a very long time.
Luckily in Israel, there are so many fun things to do, and places to be. In Tel Aviv, I love renting bikes and riding alongside the beach, finding the best cappuccinos, drinking fresh-blended smoothies, and dancing the night away at the number of different local hot spots. In Jerusalem, my roommates and I get brunch, find random cool places to shop at, and find live music or festivals to visit. On the weekends, we find ourselves on random adventures all over Israel. Whether we’re sitting on top of the forts in Akko, jumping off a dock in Eilat, setting up tents at the Kinneret, or screaming at a Jason Derulo concert, we’re all over the place. We plan all of these outings on a whim, and enjoy the ride.
My favorite holiday that I’ve celebrated in Israel is either Simcha Torah, or Purim. For Simcha Torah, we celebrated in the mystical city of Tzfat. We joined the locals in dancing through the night, singing till our throats hurt, and exploring the cobble stoned streets of the city. Purim was amazing because anyone and everyone in Israel were out on the streets dressed in full costume. There was live music, and DJ sets everywhere we went, with loads of people to interact and dance with. Having an entire country celebrate the same holiday was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my life.
One Israeli dish I’ve mastered is Schnitzel, with a side of Israeli salad. Schnitzel is thin-sliced, breaded chicken. Israeli salad is a mix of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lemon, and olive oil. With practice, I’ve learned to put my own spin on these dishes, and enjoy sharing whatever I make.
My favorite Tiyul was Kibbutz Ketura in the South. It happened to be my birthday as well, which made the experience even better. Highlights were hiking, playing in the sand dunes, and Israeli dancing. My friends also made an effort to make my birthday special, by bringing gifts to the Tiyul, decorating my hotel room, and having a surprise barbecue with a candle in Crembo and all. It was overall an amazing trip.
My advice for Future Aardvarkians: get out of the house, be yourself, be open, and enjoy the experience for what it is. Embrace the ups and downs, and appreciate the process. You will miss home, you will have nights that don’t turn out as planned, and you will have moments where a fridge full of groceries is all you want for Hannukkah. But that’s all apart of it. If you’re open to it, this experience will help you grow and learn more than you could ever imagine. So go to those random Facebook events, say yes when your friend wants to camp that weekend, get out of your comfort zone!! You will make amazing friends, and this will end up being one of the best years of your entire life.
My future plans include going to school at University of Colorado Denver, to study child psychology in the fall. And past that, my plan is to meet all my fellow Aardvarkians in New York in December. If you’d like to follow my future adventures, or stalk my previous, feel free to follow my Instagram account, @shainefish.