The Semester Off

COVID on Campus: The Semester Off

“I had this fear that, if we went back, there would be a coronavirus outbreak and they’d immediately send us home.” – Hannah Ly
Published: December 31, 2020 | Updated: January 9th, 2021 at 6:39 pm


COVID on Campus - Hannah Ly - Gap Semester
After financial constraints forced sophomore Hannah Ly to take a semester off from college, she used the leave of absence to apply her photography skills.

I didn’t intend on taking a leave of absence from Syracuse University until two weeks before I was supposed to return to school. Then New York state came out with the whole travel advisory, and if you were from certain states you had to quarantine for two weeks in New York before going to school. SU wasn’t providing any financial help if you did need to quarantine, and I had already had this fear that, if we went back, there would be a coronavirus outbreak and they’d immediately send us home.

I’m already risking everything and spending a lot just to go to Syracuse, and I didn’t want to waste a ton of money flying out there just for classes to move back online. So I made the decision to take an entire semester off from college.

I’ve always had one eye on Syracuse and one eye on my actual life. It’s kind of weird to juggle the friends I made in Syracuse, trying to maintain those relationships, while also living an entirely separate life in California, over 30,000 miles away.

I didn’t get back into photography as soon as I came home. I was taking so many pictures at Syracuse that when I got home and separated myself from academics, I kind of stopped for a couple of months. It wasn’t until recently that I got back into the creative mood and wanted to take pictures every day.

To keep that creative flow going, I started helping with the marketing at my job. Now I’m handling the grocery store’s social media and taking pictures to go with that. I’m still being creative and using photography as a method to express myself, but I’m also making a difference with my art.

Aside from photography, I’ve just focused on being with my family and my loved ones, because there’s only so much you can do nowadays. My grandmother just passed away, so I’ve started going through old photos of her and our family to make a collage to remember her. That’s another way I’ve homed in on my artistic skills at home. I’ve used what I learned running around taking photos for Syracuse and transferred those skills to my home life.

Since I took an entire semester off from college, I decided I still needed to do something academic. In addition to my job, I decided to take a couple of classes at a local community college. I’ve actually noticed that a lot of other people have gone back to college and started learning new skills during the pandemic. There are a bunch of older adults in my classes who have said the pandemic has made them realize how much they wanted to switch careers and do something else with their lives.

I’m planning to return to Syracuse University in the spring, even if classes are entirely online because of the pandemic. My goal is just to get my degree done. Besides, I have a scholarship I want to keep. So, the best way for me to stay financially secure and get my degree on time is to go back to SU next semester, no matter what.

COVID on Campus

COVID on Campus

This as-told-to interview is part of COVID on Campus, a series created by students in the Reporting classes at the Newhouse School in Fall 2020. COVID on Campus documents the experiences of students, staff, and faculty living through this extraordinary time.

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is a magazine, news & digital journalism major and NewsHouse contributor.