The college application process is always stressful, so adding an additional application to the mix might seem like a strange decision, but that’s exactly what I did. While applying to college my senior year of high school, I also filled out one extra application for the Young Judaea Year Course in Israel.
I wanted to take a year off between high school and college so that I could leave the “academic bubble” and do something productive in this world. I would sometimes stress out over school, and deciding to take a gap year actually made the application process a lot less stressful. I chose Year Course because it had a lot of history behind it — more than 50 years — and it offers opportunities for independence, for learning, and for unique experiences that I might never have at any other time in my life.
I enjoyed even more of those opportunities than I could have even imagined before we were halfway through the program.
I’ve visited Google headquarters in Tel Aviv, spent two months in the Israeli army, experienced the natural beauty of Israel while swimming in a fresh spring, and so much more. My Hebrew skills have improved drastically, and I’ve met amazing people from all over the world.
Most significantly, my connection with the land is so much stronger as a result of my Year Course experiences.
I’ve lived here now, experienced army life, tasted the foods, smelled the smells and learned my way around. I’ve gotten to live with and understand Israeli scouts, Tzofim, who were my age and taking a year off after school, like me, but planning to go into the army following their gap year. Instead of Israel just being a place where I have family or a place that I’ve briefly visited, I’ve been able to connect to the country as an individual.
I had that opportunity to visit Google headquarters because I chose to sign up for the Business Track on Year Course. I had taken AP Economics in high school and felt like that wasn’t the field for me, but I wanted to understand more. Choosing this track gave me the chance to see Israel as “the start-up nation” and helped me understand economic practices we only read about in class. This track has given me a great firsthand look at the limitless possibilities in business, from the size of the Haifa branch of Intel to the small, self-sustaining environmentally friendly village of Klil.
I’ll be entering an engineering program when I go to college in the fall. Though this gap year isn’t quite preparing me for the academic side of school, I’ve learned how to manage my own time, how to take care of my own health, and how to live with roommates and come to a consensus on the minute details of who is responsible for what in the household. So when I go to college next year, I’m not going to be stressed about living in a new environment.
Being here independently for nine months, I’ve gained so much more than I would have if I hadn’t taken a gap year, or even if I had come on a shorter trip, like Birthright. Over the course of this trip, I’ve been learning about myself, exploring my identity and beliefs as a Jew, and who I consider myself to be as an 18-year-old. I know what it means to live here now, I know which streets to turn onto and which bus to take to get where I need to go. But I also know how to protect and advocate for this place.
As I look back on this experience so far, it seems clear that taking the time to fill out that extra application was the best decision I’ve made in my entire life. These nine months have given me a chance to learn about myself and explore the world. It has been an invaluable experience and an opportunity I’m glad I took advantage of before going to college and starting my career path.
Hannah Newburger, a graduate of Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, will attend Ohio State University’s Green Engineering Program this fall.