At age 14, Santiago Monequin arrived in Israel from Argentina to take part in the NA'ALE program sponsored by the Education Ministry and the Jewish Agency which seeks to bring Jewish teenagers from around the world to Israel and gives them a full-scholarship to complete their high school diploma.
After completing the program, which does not require students to change their citizenship or immigrate, Santiago decided to make Aliyah to Israel and join the IDF – although his parents and family remain in Argentina.
Now 18-years-old, Santiago serves as a lone soldier in the Kfir brigade combat unit.
"To those that came to Israel, were in my situation and want to go back to their country – I say to them to think about it twice. There are no words to describe how I feel now that I stayed in Israel and decided to enroll in a combat unit in the army," said Santiago to Ynet in an interview on his way to his IDF inauguration ceremony.
When Santiago arrived in Israel at the age of 14, he lived in Kibbutz Neve Eitan in northern Israel and studied at a boarding school in the area.
He was later adopted by a South American family and lives with them today at Kibbutz Beit Alfa in northern Israel.
His adopted mother Lissy is from Argentina and his adopted father Julio is from Chile.
"My adopted mother prepares Argentine food every weekend so I feel at home," says Santiago. "My adopted family took me on trips within Israel and I saw several places in Israel – it's a very beautiful country."
Santiago keeps in touch with his family in Argentina from afar. Before joining the IDF, he visited them in Argentina. "My parents will no longer move to Israel, it is hard to learn a new language because they are too old, almost 70, they are retired," says Santiago.
However, despite being far from his family, Santiago has decided that Israel is where he would like to live.