Leslie and I couldn’t be any happier with our decision to take a gap year after graduating from Penn State. Over the past seven months we have been able to explore new places, meet new people, and make some new memories together.

While we highly recommend people consider taking a post-grad gap year, we realize that not everyone is at the same stage of life as us and some may not have the ability to “take a year off.” Luckily, a gap year doesn’t have to be a full year AND they can be taken before college, before a career, and even during your career.

In order to give our readers a better idea of the different types of gap years, we have invited others to write “guest posts” about their gap year experiences. First to do so is Danny Magerman, a fellow Penn Stater we met while planning our gap year during our final semester. In 2011, after graduating from high school, Danny traveled to Israel to participate in Kivunim.

Who is Danny Magerman?


Hello, Two Sided Travels! This is Danny Magerman. I grew up in Elkins Park, a medium-sized town nestled between North and Northeast Philly. This spring I will graduate from the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University with a degree in Linguistics and Spanish.

Often my friends at Penn State will question why I’m “so old.” Numerically, yes, I am older than the average senior graduating in May 2016. But that’s because after I graduated from Cheltenham High School in 2011, I left The States as a student enrolled in the gap year program known as Kivunim.

Kivunim, although an academic program, did not transfer any credits to Penn State, or, rather, Penn State would not accept them. As a result, I entered college as a freshman with one extra year under my belt.

Where My Gap Year Took Me

On October 10, 2011, I left my quiet Philadelphia suburb and wouldn’t return for eight months. Just to get an idea of the program’s scope, here is a list of every country that I spent at least a night in during those eight months: Israel, Greece, Bulgaria, Morocco, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary, Denmark, England, the Netherlands, Latvia, India, Spain, Portugal, and Turkey.

From our homebase in Jerusalem, the 60 students of Kivunim, all fresh out of high school, took college-level courses in Hebrew, Arabic, Conflict in the Middle East, and Cultures of the World. Kivunim’s programming included “field trips” to many of the places listed above. However, the most formative traveling of the year came during our spring break, when a few Kivu-friends and I planned a Eurotrip to Denmark, England, and the Netherlands.

Danny Magerman stands in the doorway of a London phone booth during a break from Kivunim

On the left, being a proper tourist in London during Kivunim’s spring break

As is often the case in international adventure, we wound up with one extra destination and stayed 24 hours in Latvia. Nonetheless, this year was far more than an exercise in getting my passport stamped: Kivunim completely altered my perspective on the world and my place in it.

The End of Kivunim

During the very end of Kivunim, I asked myself a few big questions, including: Where will you be in five years? and What are some tangible changes I can feel while still here and in the moment?

At the time, I was able to come up with pieces of the answer: Already I understood I had a new context for cultures and countries I once considered foreign and mysterious. When meeting people in a new place from a new place, I was better at and more willing to make conversation. And I learned what it’s like to find my way around in a brand new language.

Additionally, I finally began to appreciate and embrace the power of being alone—of doing things by yourself for peace of mind and for spiritual growth. Alone time, ironically, has helped me to love being with people even more.

The View of Jerusalem from Lutheran Church of the Redeemer during Kivunim

The best perspective I’ve ever had in Jerusalem from the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer inside the Old City

Nevertheless, I’d been gone so long that my reality had changed. What once was normal, “real life,” the life I was probably still clinging to into late November 2011, was now a fuzzy memory. A new mental state had taken over.

So pervasive into my mind was this fresh way of thinking, I could barely remember how I used to operate, pre-Kivunim. Would all those important people from my past life notice? If they did, how would they react? What would I tell them? “Danny, you seem a little different, but I can’t put my finger on it.” Well, neither could I.

Danny Magerman with friends at a Moroccan Casbah during a break from Kivunim

In sunglasses, second to the right, with some fellow Kivunim-ers in a Moroccan casbah

How Kivunim Changed Me

The question of why I took a gap year in the first place is hardly a question anymore. I wanted to travel. I wanted to meet new people. I wanted to try to new foods. I wanted to do something different.

Now, the question of how that gap year impacted me still lingers. Finally, though, after seven semesters in State College, jobs, internships, and more international experience, I’m beginning to understand.

Three and half years later, that question of how Kivunim changed me has some clearer answers:

  1. I now have an insatiable urge to travel.
  2. When I travel, flashy Instagrams are not my priority. Instead, I travel to learn, to meet, to exchange, and, at times, to research.
  3. I care deeply about the international community in my own country. Having played the role of “the foreigner,” I see now how challenging that can be.
  4. I value putting my thoughts to paper, not just as a means of remembering, but also as a form of catharsis.
  5. I am certain that my career and my life moving forward will involve more exploration, both of the world and of myself.

Danny Magerman sitting in front of a temple in India

Cross-legged and contemplative in front of a temple in India

Have you participated in the Kivunim gap year program? How about any gap year program? Leave a comment below!