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My Gap Quarter During The Pandemic

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Irvine chapter.

I never imagined myself to be the type to take a gap year, quarter, or gap-anything. In high school, I played with the idea of taking a gap year to decompress from the last four years or perhaps decide if the community college route was better for me. When the time came to make a decision, I did not want to get left behind by my peers, so I went on to start university. Now a third-year college student, my year doesn’t actually start until Winter 2021 as I decided to de-assess from the Fall Quarter 2020 .

Making the decision:

For my fellow UC system students, de-assessment is a withdrawal before having paid tuition. I didn’t even know this was an option until this past summer! I considered taking one or two classes but ultimately, I couldn’t justify paying the cost of part-time tuition. Summers are long within the quarter system, lasting from mid-June to late-September. Taking advantage of this recess, I chose to de-assess from Fall to prolong the break.

While the past quarter had its ups and downs, I want to clarify it is a privilege to reflect on and romanticize any aspect of the pandemic. I’m grateful to live with two parents, both who kept their jobs. I am very lucky to have landed a paid internship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) that granted me the safety net to de-assess from this Fall Quarter 2020. CHCI highly recommended that participants withdraw as the program is intensive with its internship placement and programming. Aside from those hours working or in leadership sessions, I didn’t have anything else to do!

I do have to maintain the home as the eldest daughter in a family of color. I know this to be my responsibility especially since I wasn’t constantly confined in virtual meetings like my younger brother attending remote high school classes or at a work-site like my parents. Over the summer, I would often put off my chores until the last hour before the first parent was scheduled to come home. Once I started working, I wanted to keep busy or sometimes change my scenery and pace so I would start my chores as I awaited my next assignment.

computer with tea and two notebooks
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson from Unsplash
I realized I stopped procrastinating.

This development threw me off. I never felt I adjusted to remote work during Spring Quarter 2020 with my lack of motivation, irregular schedules and poor mental health. To be returning to remote work, albeit without graded classes, and feel successful was disorienting. Without that daunting pressure of academia, I had the space to simply exist and work happily in a job that felt meaningful.

After a while, television wasn’t a way I wanted to spend my free time. I stare at my screen for an average of over seven hours a day so I don’t want to stare at my screen during my off-time. It got to the point where I HAD to read books as entertainment. When I went on my daily walk, I began listening to podcasts instead of music. I never listened to podcasts before. I listen to music most hours of the day, but after seven plus months, I needed novelty and to get out of my own head. My mind missed some of that change in perspective and constant critical thinking that I received from academic courses. This must be a glimpse into post-graduate life when we must adapt to living outside of academia.

Then UCI classes started.

This feeling of restlessness increased. As I saw mutuals tweet and post about going back to school, I grew a little envious. College life in the media is often painted as gentle studying and glamorous independence. While aware of this romanticized simplification, in my moments of self-doubt I questioned if taking a gap quarter was the right move. Should I have enrolled in those two classes? What if these classes aren’t offered again? Am I falling behind my peers? Am I doing enough?

Was I inadvertently missing hustle culture?

Not unlike the beginning of quarantine, I forced myself to process and deconstruct previous norms. I knew I had a horrible time with remote learning during the Spring Quarter so I couldn’t be missing the stress that comes with the quarter system, taking 16+ units or deadlines. I yearned for the potential connections I could have been making and the knowledge I could be gaining. However, I am aware that learning isn’t exclusive to formal education or schooling. If anything, I missed my peers. I especially felt alone as I had severed my ties with my campus by taking a gap quarter. I missed our camaraderie, our potential to bond in stressful situations. It was FOMO (the fear of missing out).

I felt this way because I was constantly reminded by social media. I began to distance myself from social media to figure out what I value, what I want to do, and what makes me content. While it seemed as if all of life moved to the virtual realm, it ended as soon as I turned my screen off. I had to let go of things that no longer serve me and then adapt, all while being aware of the importance of my own virtual presence.

In order to reconnect with my physical life, I went outside. As an introvert, I have to be reminded of how happy being with other people makes me. I like my alone time to assess my needs but I’m always appreciative of the time I spend with people I care about. Since I had a routine schedule with Friday afternoons off, I wanted to see my friends more. We had limitations as they had schedules they needed to work around, we needed to limit group size and had a two-week waiting period in between new hangouts. While I couldn’t entirely avoid virtual social interactions, I needed to make it enjoyable, so I took the opportunity to write for Her Campus! I sought radical girlhood and an outlet to sort my thoughts. This campus commitment does not feel like a burden as I was seeking a community of passionate, reflective individuals.

Woman with planner
Photo by Paico Official from Unsplash
I had to be intentional about how and where I spend my time.

Losing motivation is commonplace with no certain incentive in sight with COVID-19 restrictions.  Taking care of our mental health is important. We have to actively prioritize our self-care by listening to our bodies when we need nourishment or rest. Going on daily walks set time to process my thoughts, blissfully enjoy mood-lifting music and exercise my body. I need to sustain myself for the future and start good habits now.

Like all idle minds, my mind wandered and I let it. Before bed, I spent a fair amount of time simply yearning for the future I want and planning for it—visualizing with Pinterest boards and writing on notes apps. I read that gap years are beneficial as students are more likely to return to school attaining higher GPAs than those without a gap year and with increased “readiness.” I am definitely finishing my gap quarter feeling inspired and more knowledgeable about the career field I am entering. With the seasons and an internship that changed my life, I know to not be passive and let things happen to me. I consciously create my life and adjust to obstacles.

Taking a gap quarter did conflict with my employment.

I was offered a 2020-2021 academic year position but I had to decline as I would not be enrolled for Fall. Looking to have money for the upcoming year, I applied for a holiday season temporary job with the United States Postal Service (USPS). While I’ve worked in customer service before, clerking for the USPS was my first time in labor. I threw parcels early in the morning for many hours straight then sorted mail and moved crates for another several hours, racking up overtime-pay and stronger, aching muscles. This gap quarter during a pandemic led me to an essential job I never expected to work but I am grateful to now know more about my physical capabilities, the USPS operations, and labor unions.

During the gap quarter, I learned to stop procrastinating. Capitalistic tendencies are so ingrained in me, it made me want to be more productive, feeling guilty when I rested. As I became more intentional with my time, I realized there is a difference between being productive and having purpose. Only you can determine your purpose. It can’t be forced. While I don’t have clarity on my exact purpose quite yet, I do have more experience in various fields to narrow it down. My mental health is stabilized, the best it has been in years. I’m prepared to face whatever Winter Quarter throws my way.

I hope this helps if you’re considering taking a gap quarter. If it is not a possibility for you, I hope you get the opportunity to rest and address your needs.

Thank you for reading. Take care!

You are what you love. In my case, it's riot grrrl music, healing reads, and bell hooks quotes. I am a national HC writer and a chapter editor at UC Irvine, where I study political science and social ecology.