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On the Eleventh Week in Quarantine

By Makee

On the 11th week in quarantine I learned to play This Charming Man by the Smiths on the guitar, practiced doing the boxer step with a jump rope, cooked an awesome Thai basil beef dish, and started learning the basics of garment construction on my sewing machine.

If you had asked me in the fall my plans for the spring, I would have outlined three months spent in Rome, working part-time at an art gallery and taking Italian classes the rest of the day. I envisioned myself eating lots of pasta and pizza, taking painting classes, and strolling aimlessly down cobblestone streets. I saved many Italian songs on Spotify (Semmai by Giorgio Poi is a great one!) in the hopes that upon my return in June to the United States, I would be versed enough in the language to decode them on my own.

Although these plans fell apart with astounding speed (the first case of COVID-19 was announced while I was in Buenos Aires), and I had to cancel flights and permanently unpack back home, this life-on-pause has not been altogether worthless.

I am lucky enough to take this time to continue exploring my interests and take full advantage of my gap year, even within the confines of my own home. The podcast “Stuff You Should Know” taught me about the size of our galaxy and red shifting, and how it allows us to chart the universe’s expansion. I finally cracked open the pages of Paradise Lost by John Milton and created a brief timeline of Christianity to help me contextualize his writing. I took a virtual voice lesson on Skillshare with a Broadway singer. I’ve watched movies I’ve always meant to watch, like Rebel Without a Cause, and watched movies I’m not sure how I ended up bingeing, but did (in my case, it was the Twilight saga). I also made a bucket list for my time in quarantine, which includes learning to record music, taking virtual painting classes, practicing my french, learning to shuffle cards, dyeing my hair blue, getting better at yoga, and learning to do the splits.

I want to quickly note that I am fortunate enough to be able to take this time for myself–I know that is not the case for many Americans. Everyone has made sacrifices, and as my plans disintegrated, I reminded myself of the much greater sacrifices those working in food service or health care have made and continue to make. We have collectively lived through a daunting few months, and peer into the face of uncertainty itself. I hope everyone is staying healthy and taking care of themselves.

If you’re thinking about taking a gap year, but are uncertain what you can do in these times, I still encourage you to take time off traditional school. I’ve learned so much in these few months at home, from space to guitar to cooking to yoga, that I wouldn’t have time to prioritize if I were also attempting to balance a full course load. It’s been refreshing to plan my weeks at home, filling the hours with activities I’ve always been interested in, but pushed off until now. There are plenty of worthwhile online options to look into, like virtual internships and online classes. A gap year is simply a year to grow, regardless of circumstance, and I’ve found that I’ve been able to do so while confined in surprising ways.

I am excited to see what Duke will look like this coming fall. I know it will be different than what I imagined my freshman year would look like, but I think it will be an amazing experience regardless (or at least a unique one!).

How Solo Travel Prepared Me for Quarantine

By Skijler

It’s so odd how quickly things can change. I had boarded my flight from Manchester to Paris at the beginning of March with little difficulty, and only a hand full of people were wearing masks. I was prepared to spend three months in France, but by the time I was back in Charles de Gaulle only a week and a half later, there was barely a full face to see and everything seemed to be suspended in an almost tangible terror. The decision to leave France had gone from unthinkable, to plausible, and then to the only safe option within a matter of 24 hours. I had barely time to think as I booked a flight only two days in advance.

The whole situation felt like I was living a movie: from the newspaper headlines and French President Macron’s address to the nation, to my own president’s European travel ban and the deserted Parisian monuments. Of course everyone was going through some variation of the same, but it uniquely felt like my world was crashing down. When I got home, I had to self-quarantine for two weeks, which I have to admit was not very successful due to a family that had not seen me in months, and a country that had not yet seen the worst of the pandemic. Yet, I tried as much as I could to stay in my bedroom alone, or rather the bonus room that was quickly turned into something that could accommodate my unexpected arrival, as I waited to go get tested. Luckily the test came back negative, and I was able to finally go downstairs to cook my own breakfast and pet my dog.

Now it has been about two months of quarantine. It has had its ups and downs, but honestly it has gone better than I expected, and that can mostly be attested to the fact that I am privileged enough to live with a loving family in a rural area. We can get on with our lives somewhat comfortably, if not suffering from occasional bouts of boredom. But what I have noticed is that some of the skills I learned while solo travelling have helped me adjust to quarantine in ways I hadn’t expected. Whereas many have been newly starved of their usual social life and are unused to it, I have been largely independent over the past year and have learned how to be alone. Sure, I’ve made friends when I’ve traveled, but they were all fellow travelers themselves and so I rarely spent longer than a week with any of them, if that. There were many places I visited completely alone, many meals I ate alone, and many nights in cities where I knew no one. I am not saying that I am suddenly more mature than my peers, but I do think that the time learning how to be alone has helped me adjust to quarantine. I don’t have much problem planning out my days even when there seems to be nothing to do.

In fact, the time out of school has instilled in me a reflex to self-learn. I am not completely auto-didactic, but I’ve made sure in quarantine that I’ve kept up with my French learning, read certain books I’ve always meant to read, and tried new projects. This was something I learned this last year; truth be told, everything I was doing this last year was a self-motivated project — from hiking the Camino de Santiago to interning on farms — so I know how to keep myself motivated and productive even when I don’t have outside pressures.

This sudden and drastic change in the world has also made me feel thankful for the things I was able to experience. The world after this pandemic will not be the same as the one before, whether in a large or small way. With people largely prohibited from travelling, and uncertainty as to when tourism will reopen, I am grateful that I was able to travel when I still could. Obviously we will be able to travel again and hopefully things will return to how they were, but perhaps it will not be the same. Like 9/11 changed travelling permanently, COVID-19 might very well have a similar impact; perhaps there will be temperature screenings at airports or entry restrictions at crowded tourist attractions. Some have asked me if I regret taking the gap year because I wasn’t able to finish it out, but in fact I feel even more reassured in the timing of my decision now that so many of the things I was able to accomplish are now, for the time being, inaccessible.

Finally, I feel that my gap year has given me the emotional maturity to weather this set-back. Of course I am sad to have plans cancelled and I lament the prospect of having to start college online,* but I am also able to contextualize the situation. I remember all the stories I heard travelling, all the different people I met and the different ways their lives ran course, and I can fit this time into the larger story of my life. There will be an after-quarantine, and we all await it anxiously, but right now all I can do is make the most of the place I am in now. Even if I begin my time at Duke over Zoom, I am optimistic to see what this next stage of my life holds.

*A note from the Duke Gap Year Team: As of this posting, Duke University has not made any announcements about what its education plans may be for the fall. We encourage you to follow any updates at coronavirus.duke.edu