Aardvark Israel

Program Reviews

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Jenna
3/10
No, I don't recommend this program

Aardvark is effective at getting you into Israel and for providing housing (although depending on your building/city, the housing ranges from nice apartments in perfect locations to barely liveable - think bug infestations and black mold - in "up and coming" neighbourhoods). This year, especially due to the influx of participants due to the pandemic, there was also a large and diverse group which made meeting interesting, thoughtful, and fun people possible. While most of the social scene revolves around alcohol and partying, the diversity made it possible to find some people who wanted to have meaningful friendships, use their time to get to know Israel's landscape and culture, and make the most of the unique opportunities available to them through their internships, travel, and exploration.

In order to experience these things, however, one must have a high degree of initiative. I found nearly all of the trips and programming provided by Aardvark to be sub-par. While the tour guides were mostly great and knowledgeable, there were not tour guides on every trip and many of the trips were too short or too biased to be valuable to someone who wants to know more than the bare-minimum about only the most popular sites in Israel.

Aardvark's internships, non-trip programming, and classes also left much to be desired. Unless a student was able to utilize connections or their own searching to find an internship, they were left with opportunities that I would not consider worthy of taking a year off of my education for. While fun and fulfilling, the internships were generally unrelated to a student's field of interest and provide little future value. The non-trip programming was juvenile and one-dimensional in all but a couple of instances. The classes should not be accredited by any university and are in no way a substitute for a year of university. The options are very limited, the quality of instruction is low, and the classroom environment is unsuitable for real learning, not to mention extremely COVID-unsafe during Fall 2020.

The staff structure is hierarchical, with the madrichim doing the most participant interaction and being responsible for putting on most programming and then non-madrichim staff filling various other roles such as academic director, internship coordinator, and director. Most of the staff were very nice and did their best to help participants when they needed it, but the staff as a whole were very unorganized and for more serious issues took days or weeks to address them. The rules are also seemingly random and enforced unequally in many situations, with staff sometimes resorting to intimidation to enforce rules around class attendance but leaving serious infractions such as bullying and violence against other participants inadequately (if at all) addressed. The director of the entire program also resorted to ignoring student calls to action to address issues and victim-blaming.

Overall, this program is workable if you or your child has a lot of independence, initiative, and the ability to create a life for themselves outside of or not reliant on Aardvark. I enjoyed my year immensely because I had an internship, classes, experiences, and a social network outside of the program in addition to housing and friends within. If I had not had these and only had what the program provided, I would have left Aardvark and, unfortunately, Israel.

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Josh
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I would rate this year 10/10, largely due to the fact that I was in Israel during COVID and blazed my own trail for a lot of experiences but also because Aardvark overall is one of the best Mada programs.

Biggest cons: the staff programming was juvenile at many points, the classes were far from university-level and questionably accredited, and the type of students who choose to come are so wide (due to coronavirus) that it ranged from curious, intellectuals to New York private schoolers who have never met a poor person in their life, which made community building and shared experiences hard to facilitate.

Biggest pros: the Tuesday trips were phenomenal with amazing locations and great history from qualified tour guides, the Jewish experiences were amazing and the program has an excellent Rabbi and learning options, and, lastly, the locations of the apartments are the best in the country, being Rechavia and Florentin. Overall, if you come to Aardvark for the right reasons, it will be the best year of your life.

What would you improve about this program?
Better internship options, optional classes for those not taking credit, more freedom for participants who want to choose their own path.
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Betsy
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I loved Aardvark Israel. This program allowed me to connect to my homeland while learning more about myself and building relationships with my peers. Not only did I explore the country each week, but Aardvark provided me with an incredible volunteer opportunity in which I interacted with children from all walks of life within Israel. My semester with Aardvark was, and will remain, one of the best four months of my life. The people I met through Aardvark became my
second family and I am beyond grateful.

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Daniel
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Over the course of about 7 months, I made a lot of friends from around the world - and that’s what a gap year is all about. We went on many awesome trips and got to meet a lot of interesting people. Personally, I had a great experience at my internship working at a school for asylum seekers. There are few things I can knit pick to criticize about the program. If I could change one thing, I wish they could have mixed us in more with Israelis so we could have made more friends outside of the program. However this is up to you. During my free time, Some of the guys and I used to go to the basketball courts and play with Israelis. During my time in Aardvark I was able to learn Spanish while with some of the other students. Definitely worth it. Aardvark is dope, I would recommend it.

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
When my girlfriend and I walked into a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem and almost got attacked. Or when we were playing basketball and almost got into a massive brawl with some Arabs. It was chill tho.
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Naftali
3/10
No, I don't recommend this program

I had an abysmal experience with the staff of Aardvark. I suffered a moderate-severe injury while I was on the program. They were completely unsupportive of my medical needs. After countless appointments with different doctors in Israel, the staff still tried to undermine the severity of my injury even after it was confirmed by the doctor. Even worse they threatened to kick me out if I didn’t comply to their requirements for MY injury, I would think that would be the doctors/ my parents call. Would not recommend.

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Jaimi
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Aardvark Israel was the best experience of my life! It was through the program that I was able to gain new skills, experiences and greater independence. The support the program provided me by encouraging Ng me to pursue my own personal goals whilst creating lifelong a friendships whilst deepening my appreciation and love for Israel was astounding. The international trips exceeded my expectations, as well as the Hebrew and educational speakers which taught me so much more than I thought possible.

What would you improve about this program?
I would improve the limited information given to students about the best places to spend free time.
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Gabriel
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

To me Aardvark was a year to truly find myself. I was surrounded by new people from all over the world, which pushed me to get to know others. I was given opportunities which without Aardvark I’d never be able to say (travel israel, learn about myself, have friends in every part of the world, etc). The list goes on and on when I think about my year with Aardvark, and I would kill to do be back in the same exact place for just one more day. Aardvark was without a doubt the greatest year of my life !

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Take each second you get free, and go out and explore. The only way to make Israel yours is by getting to know why you really love it so much.
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Raya
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Aardvark opens their arms to every type of student. The balance of freedom and programming provides a space for everyone to grow. Many Aardvark students came to Israel shy and self conscious and left Israel confident and fulfilled. The apartments are based in ideal locations in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I often hear potential gap year students question going to Israel because they do not want to be “brain-washed”. Aardvark is unbiased. They showed us every opinion and allowed us to form opinions.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Listen! Always be willing to listen and you will learn so much more.
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Lauren
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Signing up for Aardvark Israel was honestly one of the best decisions of my life. While the program wasn't perfect, the amount of personal growth I experienced throughout my short time in Israel was beyond my expectations. Aardvark provided me with an environment where I learned how to be self-sufficent, advocate for myself, and push past what I always perceived to be my limits. Although it can be overwhelming establishing a strong social group towards the beginning of the program, by the end of my second semester (which unfortunately only lasted through March due to COVID-19) I found myself with an amazing group of friends that I know will last a lifetime. Israel and Aardvark not only left me with an unbelievable gap year experience, but a place where I know I can always call home. Take the chance and sign up for Aardvark Israel - I promise you won't regret it.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
My advice to future travelers is to not expect the program to be perfect. Life isn't perfect, so why should the program be?
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Nomi
8/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I was on the program for 2 semesters and I had a great time. I cannot imagine doing anything else but this program for my gap year. The program really allowed me to grow as an individual and have a sense of independence I didn’t have before, I learned how to provide for myself and how to live with other people who had different lifestyles than me. I also had the experience of going on one of their many international trips which was an amazing experience and I definitely recommend, because some of these trips are a once in a lifetime experience.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Take every opportunity you have to try something new, also travel around Israel as much as you can.