Augusta Preparatory Day School senior Mark LaVine will soon go from the cushy digs of his prep-school classroom to the military training fields of Israel.
And he's willfully volunteering for the experience - even paying for it.
Mark, 17, the son of Drs. Alan and Micki LaVine, is going to participate in Marva, part of the Young Judaea Year Course in Israel.
Sponsored by the Israeli Army and the Jewish Agency, the course consists of two months of a simulated basic-training program. Its purpose is to expose foreign students to the problems and challenges facing the Israeli Army and the role of the Israeli Defense Force within the country.
"It's two months of hard-core training," said Mark, who is set to graduate from Augusta Prep this spring.
The Marva course consists of hikes and marches, navigation, weapons training, simulated combat, military ceremonies and a study of the IDF's history.
Mark has been playing soccer since he was 3 and is on the Augusta Prep team, but he said he has not trained to prepare for this experience.
"It's all about mental strength - waking up at 2 a.m. to carry sand bags for three hours," Mark said. "Everybody's body will give out at some point."
He will leave for Israel on Aug. 31 and will return next June.
Mark said he has been a member of Young Judea since fourth grade. He spent six weeks in Israel on a Young Judea-sponsored trip in the summer after his sophomore year.
"It was a mini-sampler of the Year Course," he said. "I love the country, the culture and the people. I'm not in any hurry to study four years in college, anyway."
Mark said he would ultimately like to continue his education at the University of Denver, but he has no idea what he will major in when he does attend.
"I don't think of the Year Course as a year off," he said. "I probably will be getting a lot more out of that year than my friends will in their freshman year of college.
"I think I'll be more mature when I get out of it," he said.
But military training is not the only experience he will have during the year. The Year Course is broken into four major segments.
The first phase includes a crash course in the Hebrew language and Jerusalem studies; the second is volunteer work; the third is the Marva, or military training; and the fourth is called the Israeli Experience. This phase affords students the opportunity to develop and implement their own project, Mark said, such as "blazing trails across the desert, working in hospitals or television stations."
He said he is not concerned about safety, even though when his sister was visiting relatives last year a bomb went off two blocks from where she was staying. The Year Course participants, he said, are restricted in where they can go and have a cell phone with them at all times.
His mother is from Israel, and he has traveled to the country several times during the summer to visit relatives, so he knows what to expect.
"Any time a Jew goes to Israel it's a hard feeling to explain, but you feel like you're at home," he said.
Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113, or firstname.lastname@example.org.