Jessica H: Lessons Learned from a Gap Semester

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If someone told me two years ago that I would end up taking a gap semester during my college career, I would’ve had my doubts. Then again, if someone had told me that a global pandemic would ensue, I would have laughed it off as a joke.

But now, in my sixth semester of college — after nearly a year of remote classes and stay-at-home orders, followed by a semester-long break from school — I am now back on campus with a new, refreshed mindset.

Flashback to 2020 fall semester: I was living on campus in Boston, taking classes (most of which were virtual) and interacting with people mainly through a screen. I rarely left the safety of my dorm room, and my dreams of studying abroad in London and finding an internship in the spring weren’t looking too great. My time as a college undergrad student was slipping away faster than I could grasp, and I couldn’t help but feel frustrated and lost that the pandemic had stolen a good chunk of my college experience.

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At first, I felt insecure and unsure about my decision to take a break from school. What if I end up falling behind my classmates? Am I just making a lazy excuse to take the easy way out? Would it really be worth it in the end? I pondered these questions for a long time, and it wasn’t until two months into my gap semester that I finally began taking advantage of the situation.

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During my gap, I was able to take a refresher and put things into perspective. First on my to-do list was to embark on an outdoor road trip (with very little cellphone signal) with my family halfway across the country. Yup, you heard me; I completely avoided my responsibilities for about two and a half weeks. But that was all it took for me to reset, recharge, and reevaluate my academic pursuits. Being away from the very things that I constantly stressed about, even for a little bit of time, allowed me to slow down and organize my thoughts. I engaged in meaningful coffee chats with friends, peers, and internship directors to figure out how I wanted to spend my last few semesters in college and discussed my post-graduation plans. I was able to discover new interests and hobbies with my spare time, and the time I spent listening to others even opened avenues for me to explore work opportunities I had never considered in the past.

For the past two remote semesters, I felt as if I had been holding in my breath without realizing it. I was so focused on simply getting through each semester that I had lost track of my personal goals and interests. My gap semester was a breath of fresh air, a pause from the madness. It bought me some of the precious time I thought had been wasted, and I returned with a better idea of what I wanted to get out of my final semesters in college. It bought me time to postpone my study abroad plans for next spring, something I had looked forward to since I applied to BU. But, most importantly, it helped me realize that taking a break doesn’t have to mean wasting time; sometimes, it’s just as important as everything else we do.

 

Jessica: Getting into the Holiday Spirit

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If you’re anything like me, the minute October 31 turns into November 1, the Halloween costume comes off and the Christmas music turns on. 

But this year, things feel different. Vibes have been off. Especially with all the stress in our lives right now as we navigate the pandemic, the elections, and the sad reality that the sky now gets dark at 4:30 p.m. (talk about heavy hitters!), it’s easy to get lost in the lows and forget to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year: the holiday season. 

Fret not! Here’s a list of things you can do to lift your spirits, and hopefully, have something to look forward to!

1. Cue up some good ol’ Christmas tunes

It sounds simple, but trust me – this one’s a game changer. Christmas music has this magical aura to it that’ll lift anyone’s spirits! Create a Christmas playlist (or follow one that already exists) and get ready to destress. 

2. Get festive with some holiday movies!

 

photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes
photo courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

photo courtesy of DirecTV
photo courtesy of DirecTV

I attached these two movies above because the holidays would be so much duller without them. Make yourself a steaming hot cup of hot cocoa, sit down with some snacks and a soft blanket, and live your comfiest life with a good holiday movie. 

3. Take a stroll around Coolidge Corner or Cambridge

These places look and feel so warm and exciting and celebratory and happy during the holiday season, especially when stores start putting up their Christmas decorations and lights. Make sure you wear a mask and be safe while you’re out!

4. Decorate your room – holiday style

Since the pandemic makes it difficult to go outside these days, spruce up your own room with some holiday-inspired decorations! Go wild and go crazy with Christmas lights, North Pole signs, Christmas stockings, a mini Christmas tree… the possibilities are endless! 

5. Plan a Secret Santa with friends

One of the most exciting parts about the holidays is giving and receiving gifts. Though it’s a little more difficult now to plan this with a big group of people, that doesn’t mean you have to ditch the idea entirely. Gather your housemates — or a group of your friends (virtually) — and start getting creative!

6. Write letters to your friends & family

Holidays aside, now is a good time to check in on your friends and family members to make sure they’re doing okay. While phone calls and video chats are pleasantly convenient, nothing sparks the same joy as receiving a handmade letter from a loved one!

7. Bake holiday cookies with your roommates

There’s nothing that will lift you up more than the process of baking and smelling a fresh batch of cookies. Plus, it’s a fun way to get your roommates involved in some group festivities. If cooking/baking isn’t an option, buy some good holiday-inspired food to warm your heart! 🙂

Festivities aside, this holiday season might seem very different than those in past years, and it most likely will be. It’s undeniable that there’s more stress in the air. But above all, we should remember to take care of ourselves and each other, and to prioritize our health first. That’s even more a reason to take a breath, sit back, and celebrate the good things that are to come.

Jessica: The Do’s and Don’ts of Quarantine

begin-unsplashFor the past six months, each day has passed by like a trial-and-error run. I spent the first bulk of quarantine (regrettably) moping aimlessly at home, thinking I had all the time in the world before summer ended. It wasn’t until this past month that I found my groove and began spending my days in productive bliss. Now, as my final days at home trickle away, I present to you a condensed list of tips I gained from these past few months, in hopes that I can carry them with me back to Boston.

Do: Wake up in the a.m.

This one didn’t hit me until the end of summer, when I tried out the Sleep Cycle app on a friend’s recommendation (highly recommend this app’s smart alarm!). As much as I hated to admit it, waking up early held a million perks and zero downsides — more time in the day, increased sense of productivity, fresh morning air, breakfast foods — the list goes on. For my fellow night owls out there, trust me on this one.

Do: Establish a workout routine (even better if it’s with a friend!)

This is the one thing that I began in the beginning of quarantine and still stand by. Though you’ll still catch me complaining about how painful some workouts are (shout out to Pamela Reif), following a daily exercise program kept my energy levels up and gave structure to my weeks when I needed it most. Yoga and meditation also make for great routines and stress relievers!

Do: Make a habit out of reading

Not out of necessity, but out of leisure. What better time to catch up on book recs than now? Not only does it boost intellect, it also acts as a breather during the day. 

Do: Check up on your friends

As we navigate through the disarray of 2020 within the confines of our homes, it’s easy to grow anxious. We’re not alone in this; it’s important to remind those we love and cherish that we’re still thinking of them. Even a simple “how was your day?” speaks volumes.

Do: Channel your inner creativity

Start that blog you’ve been meaning to make. Take a camera with you on walks. Take advantage of the Adobe Creative Suite. Paint something for your room. Learn something new; the possibilities are endless.

Do: Keep your eyes open for opportunities that interest you 

One thing I’ve noticed and admired during this quarantine is the sheer number of passion projects and opportunities I’ve seen students and recent graduates take up. Now is a great time to seek new interests and pursue higher goals, whether or not they are career-oriented.

Don’t: Browse through social media until you’ve given yourself time to get out of bed

Speaking from personal experience, there is a big (sometimes hour long) difference between “waking up” and “getting up.” If you can help it, I would even recommend not checking your phone at all until you’ve properly stepped out of bed and finished your morning routine.

Don’t: Do work in bed

As comfortable as it is, I’ve found working anywhere within the vicinity of my bed to be quite distracting. Your bed gives you the impression of rest and sleep, and at a time when you’re trying to work at peak productivity, it isn’t the move. Try to secure a study space with minimal distractions for optimal productivity.

Don’t: Go on a stress-fueled Linkedin rampage

We’ve all been through those 2 a.m. bursts of sudden panic when we can’t stop obsessing over that question: What if I don’t get a job? Each time I’ve scoured Linkedin pages out of stress, the results are counterproductive. Instead, try setting a specific time during your day to do some job/internship hunting without overwhelming yourself.

Don’t: Limit yourself

At the end of the day, my biggest regrets tend to be the things I envisioned for myself but never set out to do, whether it be out of fear of judgment or neglect. None of us are sure how long this quarantine will last. While the circumstances of our current situation are unfortunate, we are given a rare opportunity to open new avenues to our own future — don’t let it go to waste!

Jessica: Be Safe, Wash Your Hands & Practice Empathy

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As I sit at my desk trying to brainstorm a topic to write about — any topic — that avoids addressing the strange situation unfolding around us, I come to a realization: I can’t. It’s been about a week since schools around the nation have sent students home in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Since then, I’ve been desperately trying to establish a regular routine and limit how much I talk about the daily news updates (knowing fully well it isn’t helping anyone’s anxiety levels). Yet I can’t help but stray from whatever task I’m supposed to be focusing on to ponder the uncertainty of today, tomorrow, the near future… 

At this point, my mind looks something like a word cloud with a million distractions and the phrases VIRUS, PANDEMIC, and THE WORLD IS FALLING APART bolded in large font.

And thus, I come to realization #2: It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

Chances are, most people are feeling just as confused and worried as you are. After all, it’s hard to avoid dwelling on it when it’s constantly in the news and on every social media platform. Staying informed is never a bad thing, though; in fact, it’s important to keep up with updates for health and safety measures. But it’s also important to take a deep breath, give yourself some space, and be reassured that things will get better.

Realization #3: It’s okay to want to talk about it.

Just a few days ago, my friend messaged me asking if it was okay to feel bummed about having to spend her birthday in quarantine. She felt that it was a stupid and selfish feeling to have, considering that the pandemic had plunged countless people into a desperate struggle to remain healthy, keep their jobs, and support their families.

If there’s anything that we should gather from this moment, it’s that everyone is fighting different battles against the same common villain. While others will inevitably be dealing with other, sometimes more severe issues than ours, that doesn’t mean that what you feel is invalid. Our emotions aren’t something that we should be hiding in shame or fear; that won’t benefit anyone, much less yourself.

At a time when everyone is struggling to find security, happiness, and hope amidst the chaos, it’s okay to feel sad, angry or scared. Perhaps the best advice right now is to have empathy and be open to helping others. Donate to local and relief charities, ask seniors in your neighborhood if they need assistance picking up groceries and essentials, and be open-minded when listening to others (while practicing social distancing!!). Simply phoning a friend and understanding what they’re going through can go a long way. And in turn, it’ll make you feel less lonely in a world that’s collaboratively battling this global threat together.