If you're reading this and considering Aardvark, good for you. Around two years ago, I was in your place too, perusing gap year programs and deciding which was the one for me. The thing about gap year programs, similarly to colleges, is that not everyone functions well in all of them. Aardvark is a more independent program, and if that's not necessarily what you're looking for in a program, than maybe it's not right for you. But oh, what an amazing program Aardvark was for me!!
Aardvark stands above other gap year programs because it has this freedom. What you put into it is what you get out of it.
For example, the internships and volunteering. There were kids straight out of high school writing printed articles in the Jerusalem Post and volunteering at the Knesset, people working at record companies with real musicians and art galleries with real artists. There were kids working the stands in Shuk Machane Yehuda, interacting with Israelis as their job every morning. I, for example, worked as an intern at the World Zionist Organization and was able to meet presidents and other world leaders as part of my job. Bakeries and woodshops and hummus restaurants and graphic design and start up companies and grassroots political organizations; you name it, Aardvark can connect you with an internship.
The classes and teachers were super beneficial. Although definitely not as rigorous as a traditional American college course, the teachers were kind and cared about us as individuals, and the classes were more discussions regarding the topics. They were primarily Israel and Judaism related, and surprisingly (compared to other gap year programs) nonpolitical, leaving room for discussion about the conflict and about religion on every end of the spectrum. Again, if you're the type to not take initiative in class, you won't necissarily be forced to work hard, but the opportunity is there.
Once a week, Aardvark takes a local trip. These can be anything from a walking neighborhood tour to wine tasting to a hike or a day long trip to a nearby city. They were fun and varied in time and length, offering some free time or a full day of programming. The variation was welcome and exciting.
Yes, the staff on Aardvark are young and were a bit inexperienced. Honestly, I had a bit of trouble with one of my staff members during the semester. However, all of the staff members had the best intentions and wanted to help. Especially the administration of Aardvark, who are all based in the offices and are as accessible as the staff - they're helpful, fun, and want to make you have the best experience possible. If there is a problem with a staff member, there are people and resources to listen
Aardvark has a lot of freedom compared to other programs. My friends and I took advantage of this by planning lots of weekend trips: renting Airbnb tents in the middle of the desert just a camel ride away from the Mitzpe Ramon crater, camping in the Sataf forest and watching the sun rise over Jerusalem, setting up a tent village with almost 30 people and communally living for the weekend on the shores of the Kinneret, and so much more. We attended galleries and concerts and museums, went to the beach in our free time and bar hopped and went nightclubbing, but as all young people with a legal drinking age do, and amongst taking classes and attending internships.
Aardvark balances its programming side with the freedom it also allows students, but that's exactly what makes it as incredible and beautiful as it is. We lived freely and fully. Other programs had so many restrictions, more hectic programming and scheduling, but if that's what you want in a program, Aardvark might not be for you. Although there are awesome activities nearly every day and internships every weekday morning and classes and Hebrew lessons throughout the week, Aardvark respects its students enough to allow them to make their own decisions in what they'd like to do with their free time, which really separates it from other programs. On Aardvark, I felt like I was really in charge of myself with a really strong support system and base schedule from the program.
If you want to experience Jerusalem and Tel Aviv not as a foreigner, but as a member of society, grocery shopping and doing your laundry on your own, Aardvark is the perfect program to give you a diving off point for an incredible year. I could not recommend this program enough - it just takes a little initiative.
The pictures below are:
1. Me sitting at my kitchen table in our Aardvark apartment in Tel Aviv
2. My roommates & I in front of our poster wall (all from the streets of TLV) posing in Aardvark shirts before an event
3. My friend and I skipping gleefully at a music festival we attended one weekend during Aardvark