Taking A Gap Year During A Pandemic

A third of college students taking a gap year due to COVID-19

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Asha Hotaling
Asha Hotaling
I am a 16 year old 2020 graduate. I will attend college for Environmental Science. I am fluent in French, Spanish, and English.

UNITED STATES. Rochester, New York. I graduated high school online with an anticlimactic finale amidst a pandemic that was running rampant through my community. I hoped that the cases would decrease, the deaths would stop, and I could carry on with my life. Six months later, I can see that I will not be traveling anytime soon. 

The plan for my gap year

I decided to take a gap year before COVID-19 hit the world, but for many students, the pandemic was enough to deter them from enrolling in the Fall 2020 Semester. 

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I decided two years ago to graduate high school in three years rather than the normal four. I knew that I wanted to go to a college or university that specializes in sustainability and environmentalism and that I wanted to go into science. I have known since I was nine years old that I want to help under-resourced communities across the world maintain a sustainable lifestyle. I was lucky that I knew what I wanted at such a young age and I had a plan to get there. I was going to graduate, take a gap year, travel to different countries to learn what people need and how I can help without taking up the role of a white, American savior. After that, I would go to college, learn the science, and move to a country where I could assimilate into the culture with an authentic understanding of the real world needs. I wanted the practice before the theory. 

Previous experiences

In 2018, I went to Granada, Nicaragua for a week to take down and rebuild a house. In those few days, I learned how to lay brick, set a foundation, weather-proof beams, and so many other physical skills. In the two months leading up to that trip, I taught myself Spanish so that I could communicate with those around me. In February of this year, I went to India for three weeks and traveled through Mumbai, Goa, and Andhra Pradesh. I stayed the longest in ProtoVillage, situated in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, where the community works to create a socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable life for the villagers. I had long discussions with the people there about why they choose to take part in the village and what it means to truly live. 

Learning to lay cinder block in Granada, Nicaragua. Photo Credit: M. Hotaling
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These brief experiences fueled my passion to engage more deeply with more communities across the world. However, COVID-19 and the way that various governments have handled the virus has prevented me from leaving the United States, where COVID-19 has had the most dramatic impact. 

Planting crops in ProtoVillage. Photo Credit: Lisa Carley Hotaling

Global educational upheaval

I am not alone in taking a gap year or having to change my plans due to COVID-19. Many different colleges and universities in the United States and globally have reported a significant increase in the number of students choosing to take a gap year or half-year. Others have decided to stay online or part-time rather than expose themselves to a deadly virus every day.

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Read also: Motherhood On Her Own Terms: Breaking Traditional Barriers In Madrid

Studies and surveys were conducted to gauge the needs and wants of college students, both incoming freshmen and returning students. Many of these surveys are showing that 30 to 40 percent of college students are deferring their admission until spring or next fall. 

There is no easy answer for students or parents about the right action to take. For some, a gap year is necessary so as to eliminate the furthered risk of exposure to immunocompromised family members or earn some extra money in a tough economy. Others may wish to jumpstart their education or not let COVID-19 circumvent their plans. I had already planned a gap year, however, I did not want this year to become a 52-week vacation. Luckily, I found a straw bale construction project with a local team of experts where I am learning the basics of environmentally-conscious building.

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