(From left:) NYU students Shira Hanau, Karan Magu and Avantika Kajaria are all participating in this year's program. (From left:) NYU students Shira Hanau, Karan Magu and Avantika Kajaria are all participating in this year's program. (From left:) NYU students Shira Hanau, Karan Magu and Avantika Kajaria are all participating in this year's program. (Photo: Facebook)

College students head to startup nation during winter break

An elite group of American students are spending the time between semesters in Israel. Find out why.

University professors often tell their students that they'll need real-world experience to supplement their classroom education. So it's no surprise that a group of students are currently spending their winter break in a country known for incubating a startup culture.

Thanks to a two-year-old program called TAVtech, dozens of American college students are in Tel Aviv, Israel taking part in an engaging educational program, giving them tangible, high-demand, technical skills. They're also getting hands-on experience by getting access to high-tech entrepreneurs, of which there are plenty. Tel Aviv has more startups per capita than anywhere else in the world. And then there are the myriad companies with R&D centers there like Facebook, eBay, Intel and Microsoft. Apple's development center near Tel Aviv is its largest outside of the United States. And according to the company, more than 6,000 iPhone app developers also reside in Israel.

Out of hundreds who applied for the TAVtech fellowship, 40 were chosen for the month-long adventure in Israel. This year's cohort includes a diverse array of students from schools like NYU, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Brown, Georgetown, Queens College and Cornell. The program began on Dec. 21 and runs through Jan. 22.

"We give them the skills to take their interests and their passions and put some code behind it, to build something that they want to build," said Phil Hayes, a data scientist at Twitter, who co-founded the Israel program.

Added TAVTech's Maya Berkovitz: "They are collaborating together, helping each other out and actually developing as a group."

When they're not working, the students enjoy the nightlife of Tel Aviv as well as field trips to places like Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

Alumni of the program often go on to take their new skills to help under-privileged communities around the world through volunteering and mentoring. Hayes – who himself has volunteered in Vietnam, India, Nicaragua and Peru – says giving back is an integral part of the program. "I feel like we have created a community of really passionate students, really talented students who will go on to do really great things," he said.

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