Have you ever considered escaping education and travelling across the globe to ‘find yourself’ and discover what’s out there while you have the chance? Would you rather live independently but still focus on your education and avoid breaking the bank?
Of course you would. So to help you along, Jemima Dover (Mearns Castle High School) will impart some wisdom on everything you need to know before embarking on a Kibbutz adventure.
My 19-year-old sister Kezia (I’m left, she’s the one on the right of the picture above) spent nine months living in Israel with a socialist Zionist organisation called Habonim Dror.
She lived on Kibbutz Revivim in the South West of Israel for the first three months and then moved into a house alongside 20 Brits, Americans and Canadians in Hod Hasharon in the North of Israel.
Fresh out of her life as a high school graduate who was not quite ready to take on the world, my sister left home in September 2016 with five other Brits and headed off to Israel. The thought of taking a gap year had hardly crossed her mind yet, relatively unprepared for what is considered a huge life decision, she completely changed her life’s path three weeks before she was due to start college.
The opportunity was too incredibly special to pass up. With Kezia’s decision being ridiculously rash, it may have been beneficial for her to receive the advice that she has imparted on me for this article.
How did your Kibbutz experience change you as a person?
As you would expect, the main attribute that my sister developed over the course of the year was independence. You suddenly have to do everything for yourself that you would never really need to do at home and your parents aren’t around to lead you through life anymore. It’s a shock to the system and this is heightened by the fact you are now also adapting to life in a different country.
One way the Kibbutz life provided some familiarity and comfort was in the supportive nature of the group and of the Socialist life in general.
There was a strong sense of family and encouragement within the group she lived with and that meant that everyone could depend on each other when in difficulty or stress. She also added that her experiences opened her eyes to new ways of living and gave her a clear view of the workings of Socialist life.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
As childish as it may sound, sharing was a big challenge for everyone on Kezia’s gap year.
It was difficult to see people wearing your clothes and having to be around the same people all day every day became gruelling. You shared all facilities and the space you had to yourself was very limited. It was clearly a lot to adjust to.
The fact that many people felt uncomfortable to begin with meant that the group had to establish boundaries which proved to be difficult as well. Going back to the idea of being around the same people all the time, Kezia also found that it was a big challenge to learn all the annoying traits of her peers and what actions or words will upset each person in order to keep everyone as happy and comforted as possible.
What aspects of Kibbutz life did you enjoy the most?
I WASN’T surprised when Kezia told me she enjoyed the craziest parts of her gap year the most.
It should be noted that my sister has rainbow coloured hair – the craziest coloured hair you could possibly imagine. Yes, that’s her on the left showing off her multi-coloured locks!
Kezia loved meeting new people and finding herself being toured around where they live and being in ‘another world’ so to speak. She loved finding herself in the most incredible areas of Israel that go unappreciated due to not being a tourist attraction.
Israel is a Jewish country, however there are many other religions which are active and thriving in the country and Kezia found them fascinating to learn about. It’s clear that moving to a new country for your gap year will surprise you in many ways and you will learn about new people and places that you would have never known about otherwise.
What did you learn about yourself while on your Kibbutz experience?
Kezia learned that she was able to live in close proximity with a group of new people.
She hadn’t known her housemates for very long and she had only met the Americans she was living with at the start of the gap year programme. Living with housemates is not the same as living at home with your parents and siblings. When you live at home and you’re accustomed to having things done for you, you get worried that you won’t be capable of functioning for yourself once you leave home.
You develop on your gap year; you learn how to look after yourself, you give up bad habits and pick up new ones and generally function as an adult.
Being pushed into that environment where she suddenly had to become an adult and look after herself made her realise that she is able to live independently.
Would you Recommend a Kibbutz?
Yes. Now that Kezia is at university, she can see how much of an impact her gap year had on her self-confidence and independence.
In hindsight, she sees that she was not ready for college or uni a year earlier and through her gap year, she has the life experience and knowledge to think ‘yes, I can live away from my family’ ‘yes, I can do this’. This has meant that she is a much happier person living in Leeds now than she would have been without taking the time to mature and develop into a more confident person in Israel.
Most importantly, gap years are fun! You meet friends that will stay with you for life and make memories that will last a lifetime.
There will be crazy and confusing times and you will have dramatic relationships and many, many, hilarious moments. One thing in particular that I loved hearing about when talking to Kezia was this activity called ‘Shnat (the gap year programme she was on) Confessions’.
This was held at the end of the year, where all the housemates sat together and read out anonymous notes about the most terrible and unforgivable things they had done over the course of the nine months.
An example of this is when two of the girls made soup for one of the vegan housemates and didn’t tell him they used a chicken stock cube!
What Did You Have to Keep Reminding Yourself About?
Push through all the hard times because they will get easier.
Life in a Kibbutz – and gap years in general –can be difficult. It’s so fulfilling and incredible and life-changing but it won’t always be easy. You have a lot to get used to; the people, the living conditions, the separation from your family and old friends.
There will be times where you don’t think you are capable of staying away from home for the whole duration of the programme but you can do it. It will take time and you will need support but it is fully within your capabilities to push forward and make the most of your time away.
What Qualities Are Essential for Kibbutz Life?
Be open! You have already opened yourself up to a completely new life so it is essential that you keep your mind and heart as open as possible.
You also need to be open to share. You send your clothes off to laundry and you may not get it back, everyone puts their money together and everyone earns the same amount. It’s an alien concept at first which is why you need to be able to be patient and adjust to your new and very different way of living.