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.