Dear Gap Year Student,
It is true. FOMO is real. You are coming to spend time in this amazing country and I don’t want you going home feeling like you missed out.
I don’t know you personally, but I have the pleasure of interacting with hundreds of gap year students each year. So fair to say I have probably met someone like you. Someone who comes from the same town or even the same high school. Maybe someone who came to Israel for similar reasons to you. Maybe someone who faced similar challenges while they were here. Having said that, of course, you are uniquely you and will be coming to Israel for the year with (hopefully) your own set of goals for what you would like to achieve here.
You are about to embark on an amazing journey of self-discovery, fun and learning. I would like to offer you some tips to help you maximise this amazing opportunity that you have here.
Meet the people!!
Israel is a hugely heterogeneous society. This applies to people’s religious outlook, socio-economic status and ethnic background. Gap year students tend to come to Israel and (understandably) gravitate towards the people who are like them. i.e. those from English-speaking countries. The Anglo population of Israel is a tiny percentage of the whole, so in order to get to know the Israeli people properly try to break out of that bubble. Don’t speak Hebrew? No problem! There are plenty of native Israelis and immigrants from non-English speaking countries who are desperate to practice their English.
“Where do I find these people?”,you may ask. Israel is a friendly country where total strangers will invite you to their homes, try to set you up on dates, offer you jobs etc. So speak to people. On the bus. At the makolet. In the street. In shul. Many programs offer (and if not you can ask for help finding) home hospitality programs for Shabbat. Request a non-Anglo family and have that experience. Harness social media to help you to find a family from a background or a part of the country that you haven’t encountered before.
You have made the decision to come to Israel for the year, so go and see Israel. Not just the awesome ice cream stores in Jerusalem, not just a favorite falafel place in Tel Aviv, but the whole country! Israel is small, so getting around is not hard and it is packed with history and culture. There are so many wonderful museums, visitor centers, hikes, bike trails etc. Finding these opportunities is not difficult.
If you need help, then ask your teachers and program staff. These people are a great resource and will be able to help you match outings with your interests. Most gap year programs include intense periods of study, but there are also significant periods of downtime (Fridays, bein hazmanim, vacations etc) which can either be spent sleeping and watching Netflix or can be used to explore, explore and explore!!
Seize the moment!!
Israel is a very dynamic country, and there are always momentous things happening. There are often one-off or uncommon events in Israel. For example we are in the middle of our second election campaign of 2019. The elections will be happening just after you arrive, which means there will still be election events. A large number of my students have attended parlor meetings hosted by various politicians and debates amongst the parties. Some of these were held in English. Pay attention to signs and social media in the area where you are living and you will quickly learn about these kinds of events.
Israel is about to host the Flag Football European Championships. While most of you will have not arrived before this ends it is a further example of cool and irregular events happening in Israel. Again keep your eyes peeled for ads and ask your program staff about what is coming up.
There are often rallies and demonstrations supporting various causes happening throughout the country. Some of these are politically motivated and some are more social-action in nature. Most of them are related to current events and unique to the time period that you are in Israel. Attending one of these is a great way to learn about issues that are important to the people living here. It will also help you to meet new people as suggested above.
Take our course!!
(A shameless plug, I know, but it really is worthwhile.)
Through the Makom Israel Course you will explore Zionism and Israel through current events, politics, history, culture, and more. You will have the opportunity to examine multiple narratives, ask tough questions, and engage in real conversations with your teachers and fellow students. Through learning in the dynamic classroom atmosphere with the latest multimedia educational resources, workshops and guest speakers, you’ll have a more developed understanding of your personal Zionist narrative and the ability to share that with others. To truly understand the country you will be living in for at least several months it is a very worthwhile addition to your schedule (if I may say so myself ) and one you will not regret taking. Our course is taught in over twenty gap year programs so there is a good chance that it will be available to you. Ask the staff if it is offered at your program and how you can sign up to take it.
In conclusion, Israel is a great place to spend a gap year with so many wonderful opportunities. I wish you a fruitful year of growth and adventure. And who knows, we may actually even end up meeting in person.