03 Mar Expanding Her Horizons in Israel
Jaclyn grew up in New York City and was planning to start her freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 2020, studying business analytics. Just weeks before the semester was set to start, she decided to defer and do a gap year program in Israel instead. When she came across Aardvark Israel, which operates in conjunction with Masa Israel Journey, and specifically Aardvark’s tech-focused “Big Idea” track, she knew that was what she wanted to spend the 2020-21 year doing.
“It’s been a dream of mine to live in Israel… so I immediately found this to be the perfect opportunity,” said Jaclyn. “Aardvark gives participants the ability and freedom to do everything; it was the best fit for me and Big Idea is giving me great experience for the future.”
The Big Idea gap year program is a partnership between Aardvark and BIG IDEA, offering high school graduates participating in Aardvark the chance to combine hi-tech training and an internship with their gap-year experience in Israel. Participants complete internships at innovative startup companies, undergo hi-tech and app development boot camps, learn Hebrew, go on trips around Israel, and explore life in the Jewish State.
In her first semester, Jaclyn learned computer coding in addition to her Aardvark classes. During her second semester, she’s been working on making her own app, which will focus on mental health and offer users a platform where they can share their own experiences. She’s also interning at a tech startup in Tel Aviv.
Because of COVID-19, Jaclyn had to quarantine for two weeks upon her arrival in Israel at the end of August. Lockdowns were very strict, restricting her to a radius of 500 meters. Despite that, in her first few months, she was able to explore the market by her apartment and the nearby park. During a reprieve from lockdowns, Jaclyn enjoyed some trips around Israel, going to Eilat and the Dead Sea.
“There hasn’t been much I haven’t been able to do. Even though some activities have had to be adjusted because of the coronavirus, I really haven’t felt like it negatively impacted my experience,” shared Jaclyn. “I’m happy to be able to see what I can of the country and immerse myself in the culture which is so different from America’s and has taught me to so much. ”
She and her fellow Aardvark students have also volunteered throughout their time in Israel. The volunteering has been mostly agricultural, helping farmers in their pumpkin patch, and picking olives and tangerines. They also packed Covid testing kits with Magen David Adom.
Early on into Aardvark, Jaclyn was already confident she’d advise others to go on the program and to do a gap year in general. And for Jewish young adults, she thinks Israel is the must-go place for a gap year.
“For Jewish teens, it’s so meaningful to come to Israel — you feel connected to the land, our history and people. This year has really shaped who I am; I feel more prepared to enter the world, I’m more open-minded,” explained Jaclyn. “I met other young Jews from all over the world who had different perspectives from me and it really expanded my horizons.”
“I would 300% tell others to do a gap year,” Jaclyn added. “And I can definitely see myself coming back to Israel for a semester abroad, and maybe even making Aliyah after college and working in tech in Tel Aviv.”