Long-term planning during a global pandemic presents challenges. We have all asked ourselves what the world will look like in a month and a year. Will elbow bumps replace handshakes? Will meetings continue on Zoom? Will travel return to normal? There is a lot we don’t know, both about the future and the virus, and trying to plan a year in advance is essentially impossible.
I established my gap year goals from the beginning: travel and develop new perspectives, engage in meaningful local service, and participate in activities I love. I had a set of plans that fulfilled these goals, beginning with an internship at a software company in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam this fall. However, the virus rendered my plans impossible, and I struggled to accept this fact. The next year of my life was completely swept away by the virus, and I was left stunned.
Then something clicked: I realized my initial fall plans were hopeless. That total defeat allowed me to move on and see the opportunity that lay elsewhere. I jumped to action and, knowing I needed money to pay for my gap year, I pursued and got a job at a restaurant serving takeout. I started reaching out to anyone and everyone of interest, from my high school’s volunteer coordinator to politicians around the country. Plenty of my emails went unanswered, and I received many no’s, but the number of people interested in helping me was shocking and a welcome surprise. I pursued every opportunity available and of interest to me. I began to realize that the pandemic gave me the opportunity to reevaluate what is important to me. I had the chance to start over and examine what work would best allow me to achieve my gap year goals. Being limited in location allowed me to see how much I don’t know about Atlanta, where I was born and raised and still live. I plan to support and contribute to my local Atlanta community this fall through service and work. I am getting certified to teach reading through Reading is Essential for All People, or REAP.
I plan to conduct free tutoring sessions for students, particularly for students at an under-served Atlanta elementary school that I have volunteered with in the past. I have worked and will continue to work with their teachers and staff to support the school in the midst of the pandemic.
I am working as a research and teaching assistant to an Emory University instructor teaching healthcare management. I contributed to her business case study about a telehealth company in the pandemic that is in submission for publication in a peer-reviewed magazine.
After about two months of reaching out to MJ Hegar’s team (US Senate candidate in Texas), I now am a remote finance intern on the campaign. Having lots of family in Texas, I see the diverse needs of people within the state and am delighted to support an American hero fighting for the everyday Texan. My plans look nothing like they did five months ago, but I am excited to be involved with and serving communities of importance to me, particularly Atlanta. After countless emails, interviews, and phone calls, I now have a plan that reflects what I want to achieve.
The pandemic has reminded me to embrace the flexibility of a gap year. I am constantly learning and have the freedom to shape my gap year around what I learn, steering myself towards the person I want to be. I anticipate a lot of my ideas about my gap year will change over the course of the year, but I look forward to constantly adapting and uncovering new opportunities.