As I lie on the beach of Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael feeling the beaming sunshine, listening to booming Israeli music and the pinging of Israeli beach bats, I acknowledge the buzzing energy of this astounding country. Seriously, what more could you possibly wish for? This has been such a fun weekend visitng my South African friends who are staying on the Kibbutz. We've spent time reminiscing and catching up on the past few months that we've spent in Israel.
We think about our friends back at home who are probably sitting at their desks, stressed out and studying for uni exams while we have learnt basic life skills that could never be learnt through a lecture or university course. I cannot begin to explain how fortunate I am to be here; enjoying the freedom, these experiences and the new found independence in this beautiful country.
I am shocked at how time has flown, and that the IBC experience that I looked forward to for weeks is already coming to an end. IBC has provided me with a balance between independance and guidance, allowing me to grow on my own, whilst also ensuring that I am always cared for by warm and loving madrichim, who can at times act as a small taste of mom and dad.
After listening to some of my school friends hilarious Kibbutz stories, I let them in on my life over the past 5 months. Without a doubt, the volunteering has been a huge highlight to my experience but all the other small, group adventures make IBC an unforgettable journey .
I started off volunteering at Aleh in Jerusalem, a centre for severly handicapped children. I was working on a daily basis with a teacher who barely spoke any english ,which forced me to challenge myself and no doubt contributed to the improvement of my hebrew. Although the kids were unable to speak verbally they found ways to show their appreciation. Aleh taught me how Israeli society chooses to assist those in need of help. The centre is buzzing with energy and happiness aiming to improve the lives of these children.
My volunteering in Ashkelon was at Amcha, a centre for Holocaust survivors. I chose to volunteer at Amcha because I felt the connection quite personally as the volunteering block began just before my IBC trip to Poland. This gave me the incredible oppurtunity to hear first hand stories of Holocaust survivors which made my trip more realistic.
On the last day of volunteering, I had shivers as the members read us letters of thanks and appreciation for our contribution. The huge contrast between my different volunteering options really gave me an all-round experience and each option taught me a variety of different skills.
My weekend visit to Ma'agan Michael has been a huge highlight of IBC, just like the many free weekends that we have been given. Free weekends are time to escape from the comfort of being in a group and really enjoy your independence. It is a time to experience Israel on your own, make your own decisions, to party, see Israeli culture, travel, visit family and friends on other programs and relax.
Free weekends give you the oppurtunity to travel around using public transport while showing off your newly learnt Hebrew skills from the previous week's ulpan lessons. This is also a time where you can see the strength of your newly formed friendships as IBC participants often meet up on weekends and spend even more time together.
As much as free weekends give us the oppurtunity to travel around Israel and meet new people, IBC also never allows us to miss an oppurtunity to go out, travel, hike, meet Israelis our age, eat local food, camp and tour. IBC also takes us to events that show the heart of Israeli culture like when we joined in the Yom Yerushalayim march. This was a spectacular event to be involved with as we marched and sang with proud Israelis around Jerusalem ending off in a huge dancing session at the Kotel.
On Yom Ha'Zikaron we went to Mt Hertzl, this gave us a sense of the unity amongst the nation as we saw thousands of people gather together to mourn the fallen soldiers. I have heard countless Yom Ha'Zikaron sirens through youtube videos in school commemoration assemblies but to finally hear the siren out loud, in Jerusalem amongst the Israeli society made the expereince so much more real.
Talking about independence, IBC gives us the oppurtunity to learn to cook,shop, budget and clean for ourselves. Coming straight from school where these activities are not part of our everyday routine, the experience really helped us to grow. The frustration felt on Sunday evenings after receiving the dreaded brown envelope of budget money and the thought that we had to mission across the road to the supermarket had a huge contribution to the gaining of responsibilty.
It also gives us the space to learn about the South American's culture as the Argentinian Chanichim taught us how to cook a few traditional dishes. This independance is reinforced by the concept that our volunteering jobs become an individual responsibility and not a responsibilty of the group. We are required to get there and back on our own and it becomes our personal choice to put as much effort as we want into our new jobs.
As much as a year off is often associated with time to have fun and trvael, IBC gives us a wonderful oppurtunity to be involved with educational activites as well. Lectures become a part of our weekly routine but these lectures are not time to sit in a classroom, takes notes and then be tested, it is a time to question and think for ourselves. IBC is all about choice and thus not affiliated with any ideology or belief. In our lectures, we are gievn perspectives from all different types of people, be it right or left-wing, religious or secular and thus we are encouraged to form our own opinion on certain matters.
I make sure to tell my school friends about my wacky Australian crew and let them in on funny stories with my new close friends. I tell them that I am already counting the days until I can visit my IBC family and make sure they know that after IBC I will never have to pay for accomodation when visiting Australia. My friends don't stop teasing me about my new Aussie lingo of 'singlets' and 'thongs' and occasional adjustment to my South African accent.
IBC has been one of the greatest gifts for me this year and I continuously think how my decision to join the program could not have been better. A year off is a time to do whatever you want to do, be anyone you choose to be and go any place you want to go and by joining IBC I was given the oppurtunity to do all of these.