May 22, 2020

PART 3: Academics, How the Tivnu Gap Year Prepared me for College (and Beyond)

This is Part 3 of a 3 part series written by Aliza Saunders, Tivnu alumna and student at Cornell University. During Tivnu, Aliza interned at Street Roots, Northwest Workers Justice Project, and Tivnu Construction. She is now a first-year student at Cornell University majoring in Design and Environmental Analysis.

The first semester of college is hard. And not many people tell you that. 

Aliza (seecond from the right) and some friends braving the New York winter at Cornell University

While I can now say that I am incredibly happy at college that was not the case on August 28, as I unpacked my clothes in my 20 ft x 20 ft dorm room. Or even in early October, when I left the overcrowded dining hall after dinner overwhelmed, stressed, and on the verge of tears.  It only took me about six weeks to feel comfortable at school and I can confidently say that I mostly attribute my eventual ability to feel settled into college to my experience on my gap year before college. 

Last year, I participated in Tivnu: Building Justice, a nine-month Jewish social justice gap year program that combines direct service work, nuanced educational programs, and Jewish communal living. Specifically, my work with a direct service organization and my participation in an intentional, communal living home gave me the experience and tools necessary to excel both socially and academically in college. 

Part 3: Academic

Not only has my experience at Tivnu helped me socially, it has also helped me further my academic goals. Some people worry that taking a gap year will mean you’re out of practice and at a disadvantage academically when you do start college. But that was quite the opposite for me. I found that my internships and the outside-the-classroom learning at Tivnu really gave me an advantage when I got to Cornell. 

Aliza (bottom right) showing off the fair-trade coffee from a Street Roots fundraiser with Street Roots community members and staff. Street Roots is a newspaper and community hub for houseless individuals where Aliza did one of her Tivnu internships

In terms of internship experience, a few days a week last year, I interned at Street Roots, Portland’s street newspaper. Each day I interacted with houseless individuals – the vendors of Street Roots and its heart and soul – hearing their stories and chatting about their day. I heard about their struggles to find housing, their issues with the quality of their subsidized apartments, their visible pain after a rainy evening. 

The relationships I’ve made with these vendors has made the housing and homeless crisis incredibly personal to me. As I learned about the increased amount of chemicals and increased violence in poorly constructed and designed public housing in my environmental psychology class here at Cornell, I can think of people I personally know who are affected by the poor quality of public housing. Even in a 300-person lecture class, the information we’re learning is able to impact me personally, fueling me to choose a career that uses macro solutions to positively impact the lives of individuals. 

Aliza with a copy of Street Roots, the newspaper where she worked during Tivnu and where she became a published journalist!

Moreover, essentially working on the front lines at Street Roots, seeing houseless individuals at their most vulnerable, I learned about my capabilities, as well. I learned that I am capable of engaging with and learning from people who grew up in wildly different backgrounds and experiences than myself, as well as being the point person when conflict arises. I learned that I am capable of so much more than I think. As such, this has motivated me to seek out  opportunities I may have been too timid or nervous to do so before Tivnu. Earlier this first semester, I reached out to an esteemed professor in my major to discuss potential research opportunities, and this semester and beyond I will be researching climate change attitudes with him and an upperclass students. If it weren’t for the confidence I built during Tivnu, I would not be taking my studies to this next step. 

From the boundary pushing to communication building, I was able to start college being a more grounded and experienced young person, skills that I will take with me for the rest of my life.

Aliza with some housemates at a Tivnu family dinner, complete with the house favorite: gourmet mac n cheese.

This is part 3 of a 3 part series. Check out Parts 1 and 2!

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