Year Course How a year in Israel changed me

By Young Judaea

By Mia Mikowski, Year Course 2022-2023

Before Year Course, I thrived in the world of academics. I was a straight A student with a love for STEM but I always struggled socially. In the beginning of the year, leaving formal education was a challenge for me. Some of you may remember the calculus problems I solved on my leg or the online class I took in my spare time. I did these things because I was terrified of spending a whole year without learning. In reality, I’ve learned invaluable lessons this year that academics could’ve never taught me.

One of the key lessons I learned was about friendship. While some of you came on this program with friends you’ve known since kindergarten, I, like many others of you, came in not really knowing anyone. As I met people, it was hard to imagine letting any of them into my life and trusting them the same way I did my sister or mom. Seven months later, I woke up to some especially difficult news. That morning, my MADA roommates put aside their plans of catching up on desperately needed sleep to be my emotional first responders. That day I understood how people call some of their friends their family.

There’s a lot of talk about the independence that we’ve gained this year, but the dependence we learned is just as important. Of course, there have also been many lighthearted moments I’ll miss- moments like karaoke, picnics on the beach, the bottom line is that I’ve never experienced a camaraderie quite like that of this past year.

This year also gave me the chance to fortify my relationship with Israel and revisit why I am a Zionist. Year Course’s open approach enabled us to explore Israel in whatever way felt meaningful to us. We got to visit so many beautiful sites and listen to countless inspiring speakers. We also got to learn firsthand about the various conflicts this country faces and uncover the deep societal divisions you don’t see from an outside perspective. We talked to people on all sides of the political spectrum- some whom I heavily disagreed with, but I think that especially this year, as Israeli society faces such a tumultuous period, all of us had to grapple with our personal relationships with Israel in a much more complex way.

We got to live in Israel during one of its most trying times and see the best and worst of this Jewish democracy. While some of the notions of the judicial overhaul make me fear for the future of this country, getting to join the protests and see people’s vested interest in the state reaffirmed my love for the Israeli people. Of course, there are many issues within this country that I hope will change, but I’m still leaving this year with a deeper connection to Israel, a more complex understanding of its society, and a stronger Zionist identity.

The biggest lesson I learned this year was about letting go, having fun, and living life to the fullest. As I mentioned earlier, I came into this year very high strung, but the Year Course community has encouraged me to say yes to all types of opportunities- even those outside of my comfort zone. My confidence has skyrocketed here, and I’m able to embrace my authentic self, really all thanks to you guys.

Recently, I’ve begun studying for my college math placement test and I’ve found I’ve still got it for the most part- proving to me that once you learn something, it tends to stay with you. This is how I know the personal growth we’ve experienced on Year Course will stay with us for a lifetime.

L’chaim to all of us and to the incredible Year we’ve had! I can’t wait to hear about the things you all accomplish in the future.

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