Hi, my name is Shelly Alkaslasi and I am from Los Angeles! I am spending my gap semester in Florentin and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. When I return home, I plan to transfer to a UC campus, study Microbiology, and then get my Bachelors of Science in Nursing!
When I was 12-years-old, my older sister participated in Aardvark Israel and all I remember hearing about was how great of an experience she had and how much closer she felt to our Jewish culture. Growing up with Israeli parents, I was fortunate enough to learn the language and culture but nothing compares to what I’m experiencing myself living here. When I realized I was ahead of my college courses and was able to take a semester off, Aardvark Israel seemed like the perfect opportunity. I have been to Israel a few times but being able to live like a local is an incomparable experience.
My internship is at OneDay Social Volunteering, a nonprofit group that volunteers in different locations daily to help people in different situations. It is unique in the sense that it offers volunteers flexible and adaptable volunteering opportunities that helps increase social and professional networking. I have been working with the founder and another intern on activities and workshops that can be done per volunteer situation. This has given me the chance to increase my professional and social skills while helping others.
My favorite part of Aardvark Israel is being able to meet so many people from all over the world and learning how these different cultures come together within the Jewish community. Although Los Angeles is full of Jewish people, there is something more fulfilling about learning how those from South America, South Africa, Australia, Canada, and more, connect to their Jewish heritage and find themselves at home in Israel.
The one thing that surprises me the most about Israel and Aardvark is how welcoming people are. People here want you to love the country just as much as they do and they make you feel at home without even saying anything. I have also made incredible relationships with other students on the program. I went from not knowing anyone on the program, to having some sort of relationship with nearly everyone. Everyone is extremely welcoming and friendly, which makes the experience a million times more enjoyable. We all came for similar reasons and want the same things so we all want to have a good time together.
I’m only a month and a half into the program and on a daily basis my experience has exceeded my initial expectations. Without this opportunity, I don’t think I would ever be able to appreciate and learn about my culture in the same way. My advice to those who are considering the program is to stay open to any new opportunities that allow you to learn more about Israel. When you think you have maximized your experience, Israel always has something new to show you.