Making the most of a gap year

Making the most of a gap year

International students at Syracuse University are taking gap years to pursue other opportunities amid the pandemic.
Published: December 9, 2020

As an international student, Rebecca Jin had been considering taking some time away from studying at Syracuse University. When the global pandemic hit this past spring, it was the perfect opportunity.

“My family’s financial condition is not well this year,” Jin said. “So I have been talking to my parents about a gap semester for a long time.”

The chaotic end to Jin’s spring semester, when COVID-19 first hit, will sound familiar to SU students. She had just signed a half-year lease at Copper Beech Commons, which she was able to break. She packed up her apartment and scrambled to find a flight home to Harbin, China.

“I don’t feel safe to stay on campus,” Jin said. “I wanna get back to China as soon as possible.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, international students like Jin have been forced to make tough decisions about their college futures. Travel restrictions held some students back from returing to college campuses for fall classes.

A recent Institute of International Education showed that U.S. colleges saw a 43% drop in new international enrollment this fall. One in five international students is studying remotely from abroad instead of taking in-person classes.

Jin said she was not convinced that remote learning would work for her with the 12-hour time difference. She wondered how she would participate in software training and group projects for her major.

“I hate online classes,” Jin said. “I can’t even bear with it.”

SU Rebecca Jin visited Guangzhou, China, this October to meet up with friends during her gap year.

Rebecca Jin visited Guangzhou, China this October to meet up with friends.

Rebecca Jin enrolled in a graphic design course that met from 8 a.m.-5 p.m daily to enrich her gap year.

Jin enrolled in a graphic design course that met from 8 a.m.-5 p.m daily to enrich her gap year.

When spring classes shifted to remote learning, Bandier sophomore Ash Ji saw an almost immediate impact on her grades.

“Well, I really couldn’t concentrate on Zoom when Syracuse University switched to fully online last spring,” she said. “My GPA for last semester was terrible, and I realized that online learning is not my thing.”

Aside from being unable to concentrate on Zoom, Ji said online classes were not worth the tuition, and the time differenced flipped her regular routine.

Even though the pandemic has forced gap-year students to pause their college lives, they saw some positives. They had more flexibility to do what they are interested in such as getting internships.

“The pandemic did mess up my plan, but it also gives me a chance to internship and time catching up with my friends,” Ji said.

This is the first time Ji has been able to stay in her Chongqing, her home city, in almost a year. She took the opportunity to work as a marketing intern at Chongqing Grand Theatre. Ji is also planning a live hip-hop performance called “Final Station,” featuring her artist friends and rappers. It’s the best time to practice what she has learned from Newhouse, she said.

“2020 is tough for everyone, so I hope I can bring high-quality performance for young people and my city,” Ji said.

Ash Ji playing piano
Bandier sophomore Ash Ji is playing piano at her home.

Jennifer Chen, a rising advertising junior, has a media planning intern at Dentsu Advertising Co. in Shanghai. Her plans to study abroad in the Netherlands this fall, were disrupted by the pandemic.

Although some international students are taking a gap semester or gap year, others are not.

Austin Xiao, a junior in the Setnor School of Music, took 15 credits this fall, which he did remotely in Shenzhen, China.

Xiao said he had an essay or assignment due every week. After finishing assignments at night, he would have another deadline at noon the next day. But with classes at night, Xiao struggled to balance his work.

“It’s not really friendly to international students who study fully online,” he said. “Professors are handing out more writing assignments to make sure you are doing something.”

One of Xiao’s music classes is about studio recording. Rather than walking into a music studio and actually recording music, the class was entirely based on theories.

“It’s ridiculous that we just learned theories for a whole semester without any practical training, and my professor had to draw recording equipment since we are unable to see them [in the studio],” Xiao said.

It’s torturing both professors and students, he said.

“I’m one year from graduating, but I don’t know how far I can go with such a burden,” Xiao said. “It’s way too much for me. I’m considering a gap year or at least one semester.”

Unlike some gap students who plan on returning to campus or taking online classes next semester, Jin is continuing her gap-year and plans on not returning to Syracuse until after the pandemic. In the meantime, Jin has signed up for a four-month in-person graphic design class.

“I could have graduated in December 2020, but for now, I’m taking school off indefinitely,” she said. “Fortunately, my parents never pushed me to graduate as soon as possible, and it kind of allows me to focus on what I love to do.”

Staying closer to home
December 9, 2020 3:00 pm

Aro MajumderIt’s not only international students deciding to opt-out. Aro Majumder, a broadcast and digital journalism junior, is also taking a gap year.

Majumder has been thinking about taking a semester off since February. When the pandemic hit in March, he made the final decision to leave school for a while.

“I felt like I kind of need a break from school, and I kind of wanted to see if I could find somewhere to work at during this fall semester,” Majumder said. “I kind of just want to experience writing without having the stress of school.”

Majumder’s deciding factor is that he lives in Austin, Texas.

“It really doesn’t make sense for me to go back to Syracuse just taking online classes and being so far away from my family,” he said.

Majumder is currently covering high school sports at the Austin American-Statesman, a local newspaper he has been freelancing for since high school.

“I’m just writing to the paper and don’t need to worry about school or anything,” he said. “It’s pretty good.”

Majumder hopes the pandemic will be better for next semester, and he is getting ready back to the campus in spring.

“I heard that the virus is not that bad in Syracuse right now so that everyone’s doing well at the moment,” he said.

Alternative Text
A list of stories Aro Majumder has written for Austin American-Statesman.
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is a digital producer for The NewsHouse.