21 Mar A Gap Year Experience To Remember
A Gap Year Experience To Remember
Maya has been taking classes, completing an internship and exploring Israel during her memorable Aardvark Israel gap year program, and even participated in a two-month Israeli army add-on experience too.
Maya, 19, from Los Angeles, California, has been living in Israel since August 2022. As a participant in the Aardvark Israel gap year program, she first lived in the Florentin neighborhood in Tel Aviv, but moved in December to the Nachlaot neighborhood in Jerusalem where she will stay until late May.
Aardvark Israel operates in conjunction with Masa Israel Journey, which is a joint project of the Government of Israel and The Jewish Agency for Israel. Aardvark’s mission is to bring together a diverse group of students from all over the world for meaningful, life-changing experiences in Israel that strengthen their Jewish identity, deepen their commitment to Israel and foster their personal growth.
Through Aardvark, Maya is taking part in classes and completing an internship each semester too. She also chose to do the Marva track add-on, which is an army simulation program that gives participants the opportunity to gain a firsthand understanding of the Israeli military from within.
“I had always wanted to join the military and the Marva track gave me the opportunity to try it out without fully committing to making Aliyah and doing the full service,” explained Maya. “I spent two months in the fall living on an army base in Sde Boker, which is an experience that I will remember forever.”
While only her second time in Israel, Maya fell in love with the country upon her first visit, deeply connecting to the culture, landscape, and history. So when she had the chance to live abroad before going to university, she thought Israel was the obvious choice and Aardvark seemed a perfect fit.
“I picked Aardvark because they were one of the programs where we have the autonomy to live like local Israelis. We are able to take Ulpan (Hebrew learning classes) and mini-courses, as well as classes for credit that you can transfer to your university,” shared Maya. “Another appeal was the weekly trips that we take to visit and learn about places all over the country, and the international trips Aardvark offers too.”
Upon her return to the U.S., Maya will begin her freshman year at the University of Iowa in August – she is enrolled as a double major in Journalism & Mass Communications and Sports Management – and her time in Israel with Aardvark has made her even more excited to join the Hillel at her school. And to others considering doing a gap year in the Jewish State, Maya would encourage them to go for it.
“Living in Israel has been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and made me feel more connected to my people and my homeland. Regardless of any ups or downs I had, I couldn’t imagine myself doing any other program,” Maya said. “It’s given me the opportunity to learn independence and responsibility and live on my own and connect with my Jewish identity while exploring the country.”