Gap year students reflect on time off

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Daily file illustration by Hank Yang

Many Northwestern students chose to take time off, rather than grapple with remote learning during the pandemic.

Joshua Perry, Reporter

Katherine Tuohy was certain she’d never take a gap year.

Tuohy said she was completely opposed to taking time off before college. The idea of arriving at Northwestern kept her hopeful as she finished her senior year of high school during the pandemic.

Then NU announced that the majority of campus would stay closed through Fall Quarter, forcing her to reconsider.

Tuohy, who intends to study theater, said she didn’t want to struggle with acting classes over Zoom or live her first year of college completely off campus. At the same time, the prospect of putting off something she’d waited so long for was no more appealing. Despite feeling conflicted, she decided to take a year off at home.

“I feel like there’s no winning situation right now,” she said.

Like Tuohy, many students took time off from school in 2020. Sidelined at home by the pandemic, however, these students aren’t having the kinds of adventures typically associated with gap years. Still, they’re finding ways to make their experiences count.

After classes went virtual, Bienen and Communication sophomore Kate Lee sensed that classes wouldn’t return to an in-person format for a while. After returning to her home in Hong Kong and finishing Spring Quarter, she decided to take time off until the 2021-2022 school year rather than contend with the difficulties of remote learning.

“I thought it would be a very valuable opportunity for me to just take a year off and focus on what I have here instead of constantly living 14 timezones away from where I am,” she said.

Lee said for the most part, it’s going well. She has been focused on working at her internship, spending time with family and friends in the area and enjoying what life in Hong Kong has to offer.

While Lee is grateful for the chance to reconnect with home, she said she misses her friends at NU and the community she was a part of on campus.

“There are times when the loneliness kicks in and I realize all of a sudden how this really is a journey of my own,” Lee said. “This is life, and it’s almost like I’m experiencing that early.”

Nicole Streger, who is waiting until Fall 2021 to start her first year at NU, can also attest to having too much time all by herself. But she said the isolation has been an opportunity for self-reflection and clarity.

Streger said she always pushed herself too hard in high school, and taking time off gave her the insight to put things in perspective and work on her passions, like painting. Now she feels more prepared than ever for college.

“I think I’m a lot more excited, and I know how I’m going to prioritize my time and what I want to learn and get out of the next four years, which is cool,” Streger said.

Tuohy has also found ways to stay busy at home. She spends her time writing, teaching acting lessons and working as a pilates instructor. Like Streger, Tuohy feels like she’s been given a chance to reorient herself.

Taking a gap year changed everything for her, Tuohy said. She’s had plenty of doubts about her decision, but now she feels like it was the right one.

“As hard as it was — and is — it’s going to serve me so well, I think, going to campus,” Tuohy said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @joshdperry

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