Shnat Netzer: Retrospect and Perspective
by Kathryn Henning
Every so often it hits us.
You don’t know when it will happen or what you’ll be doing when it does, but it’s always a little bit of a shock to your system. You get this feeling in the pit of your stomach. It kind of bubbles up inside you and reminds you what you’re doing; reminds you that you’re doing something that no one’s done before, but that so many people before you have done. All the people that have inspired you to be the person that you want to be know exactly what you’re going through. The moment when you actually realize that you’ve moved to a different country for a year, to live with 30 people from all over the world, living, learning and growing together through shared experiences is probably one of the most inexplicable feelings to feel.
You start off in Shnat Netzer fresh out of high school, a bunch of 18-year-olds, most of you without parents for the first time in your lives, pretty much left to your own devices. You have that kind of schedule that reminds you of school: It’s not as big a shock to your system as you thought it would be. You learn to fend for yourself; you grow to know what you like and what you don’t. You have to be honest; you can’t be scared to tell people when you need time on your own.
Being constantly surrounded by people all doing their own things can be quite overwhelming. You learn tolerance and acceptance, you learn the power of friendships that you’ll have forever afterwards, you learn the value of peace and quiet, you learn to deal with things you may never encounter on an ordinary gap year, and you’re constantly learning and immersing yourself in a completely different society.
The social norms are different; you live in a society where a pineapple is a more valued gift for a house warming than a pot plant. The romances are different, and the language, the food, the people and how they interact take a little while to get used to. Everything is in a constant motion. There is barely a time when something is the same as something else, or when two days are similar. It’s both beautiful and awful at the same time. Along with Israeli society and cultural differences come all the social and cultural differences of the people with whom you spend the year. Living with a mix of Germans, Spaniards, Americans, Brits and a bunch of crazy Australians you learn way more about yourself, become inexplicably patriotic and finish the year with some sort of mixed accent that no one can quite put their finger on.
It’s difficult when people leave, when you don’t know if you’re going to see your friends again. When you’re sure you’re right but everyone is telling you otherwise. In a year of uncountable moments, unbelievable views, excruciatingly long bus rides, laughter, smiles, tears, fights, makeups and all the other words that relate to “drama,” I’m sure that I’ll make it out alive. Better. Grown-up. Matured. Self-aware.
As for the future, I say, “Bring it on!” Throw whatever you’ve got at me. Shnat Netzer has prepared me. I am ready.
Kathryn Henning, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, is a current participant in Shnat Netzer, a 10-month gap-year program in Israel.