01 Feb Gaining Independence on a Gap Year
Raquel grew up just outside Philadelphia, going to Jewish summer camp throughout her childhood and was active in her synagogue’s community. Though her brother took a gap year between high school and college, participating in Aardvark Israel, which operates in conjunction with Masa Israel Journey, Raquel had no desire to do so. She loved school and didn’t want to press pause on her academic career, preferring instead to start college right after graduating.
The coronavirus pandemic changed her plans when her university announced that all classes would be online and only certain students would be allowed to live on campus. Suddenly, a gap year became an enticing option.
“When the idea of a gap year came to mind there was no doubt Aardvark would be the first on my radar since my brother had so many incredible things to say about the program,” recounted Raquel. “This is my first time in Israel and I could not be more thrilled to be here. With Aardvark I didn’t have to say goodbye to my love for learning. I have the perfect balance of free time and hands-on experience each and every day.”
Although she never wanted to take a gap year before COVID-19, Raquel says the value they offer participants is obvious now that she’s in Israel and part of Aardvark.
“Being here has forced me to step out of my comfort zone and experience something new, and in turn, I have gained so much. I have become self-sufficient and independent, living on my own, learning to get along with people who are different from me,” shared Raquel. “I used to believe taking a gap year before college meant you weren’t prepared, but now I understand taking this year off shows you know exactly what you want, and that you already possess the skills to excel.”
Despite the multiple lockdowns in Israel she arrived in September 2020, which Raquel was concerned would severely restrict the program’s activities, Aardvark participants have been able to do a lot. Though certain shops and stores in Israel have been closed and travel within the country has been limited, the lockdowns have given Aardvarkers the opportunity to give back to the community through volunteering. Raquel credits these periods with allowing her and her peers to focus more on themselves and on building relationships with the people around them.
“Not only has Aardvark brought me friends I know I will cherish forever, but it has allowed me to come out of my shell and become a stronger, more independent person,” said Raquel. “I could not be more grateful and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the second half of my year here will bring.”
“On a gap year, you’re basically forced to get to know who you really are, and you may never get this sort of experience again,” Raquel added as a tip for those who may be considering gap year programs in the future. “It is probably one of the first times you will be on your own and starting fresh, and this fresh start means you get to be whoever you want to be — so take advantage of every opportunity.”