Editors note: This is the second in a two-part series about UMass students taking a gap year as an alternative to school.
There is an alternative approach to heading straight into four more years of college.
Seth Engelbourg, a freshman from Sharon, and Sam Dilthey, a freshman political science major from North Adams, immersed themselves in other cultures and gained work experience as part of their first year out of high school.
Engelbourg spent the next year after graduating high school learning about his religion’s history and homeland. From August 2010 until June 2011, he explored Israel as a part of the Young Judaea Year Course.
For the first three months of his trip, he stayed in Bat Yam in Tel Aviv taking classes, going on field trips and working on an organic community farm. He worked on the farm in an effort to promote the natural environment in a predominantly industrial area. On the farm, he planted citrus trees, onions and peppers.
Engelbourg experienced a new way of living on his trip. For part of the trip, he lived in a kibbutz in Ketura. A kibbutz, he explained, is a commune type settlement that dates back to the early 1900s. He said they shared economic and social resources, and that it somewhat resembled a socialistic society.
Dilthey ventured to a small town near Cabaret, Haiti to do humanitarian work building a foundation for a sowing center to help boost the local economy. He also worked at a summer camp for kids doing arts and crafts, playing music and soccer.
He helped ease the erosion problem along the roads from Cabaret to Desab by planting grass to hold down the soil.
Dilthey said he noticed Haiti wasn’t as violent as the news portrayed it and learned there weren’t as many age barriers as there are in the U.S.
Engelbourg also spoke about the lack of age barriers in the kibbutz. He said he was doing the job of a typical American 40-year-old as an 18-year-old.
Both Engelbourg and Dilthey got new work experience during their gap years. Engelbourg worked as a construction worker installing sinks and toilets in the kibbutz and Dilthey worked for FastCAP in Sharon as a lab assistant growing carbon nanotubes for capacitors.
Dilthey said he helped work on capacitors that he said are typically used in electric cars.
“It’s so cutting edge and it’s the future of energy storage,” he said. He also predicted these types of capacitors could replace all batteries in the next 10 to 15 years.
Engelbourg conquered a three-week hiking trip along the southern part of the Israeli National Trail.
Engelbourg said the hike made him feel “connected to nature.”
At the end of the hike, Engelbourg and the group stopped on a hilltop overlooking a breathtaking view the city of Eilat, the southernmost tip of Israel, and the surrounding beaches.
Over winter break, Engelbourg took a five-week scuba diving class scouring the bottom of the Red Sea, finding fish and remnants of shipwrecks.
Both students got experience working for a non-profit organization and learned about social issues affecting different types of people.
Engelbourg lived in Jerusalem during the final part of his trip where he took classes daily and volunteered at a center for the homeless or disabled elderly called Yad LaKashish. At the center, he helped the elderly learn how to make crafts as part of their employment. He said the average age was 80 years old and 75 percent spoke Russian, 10 percent Hebrew and the remainder French, Spanish and English. Engelbourg learned a lot about language barriers and cultural gaps because it was his job to connect the different members of the center and help them understand how to do their jobs, he said.
Dilthey was an intern at a non-profit consortium on gender security and human rights. He helped with research on women in war as participators rather than victims. He said the importance of the research was because he thought policy makers often see women and children as victims of war and not as participators with specific needs in the reconstruction process. Part of this work was to inform policy makers about the needs of women in children as part of wars and to include them in rebuilding and reconstruction after war.
He said he discovered there are women in the militia from all over the world from his work at the non-profit organization.
Engelbourg studied the Jewish culture and religion’s comparisons to that of Islamic and Christian cultures. He said he learned to see from the other religions’ perspectives when he learned about their history and traveled to their holy lands.
Nancy Pierce can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.