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Coping with COVID

By Sammy

COVID has been crashing world economies, demolishing daily routines, and most of all, causing deaths throughout the world. Israel has not been spared, with the country initiating multiple country-wide lockdowns to fight off the spread of the disease. However, Israel has also been leading the world in vaccinations per capita. After high cases per capita, the Israelis fought back resiliently, rapidly dealing out doses to its citizens. Recently, I volunteered at one of these vaccination centers, checking in on post-vaccinated people and giving them refreshments.


The center was a blur of efficiency, and I was delighted to see how fast Israel was administering vaccinations. I conversed in Hebrew with the people there. Since most of them were elderly and spoke slowly, I was able to understand almost everything. These conversations proved a great measure of how much my Hebrew improved in my time here. As I exchanged stories, part of me was thinking about the current situation in the US, where my own grandmas had been struggling for weeks to schedule a vaccination. It seemed so simple to implement quick distribution of the vaccine, and I was astounded after hearing how slow the process was in America. After personally seeing the efficiency and organization of Israel, my heart filled with pride. Not only are Israelis innovative and determined, but also so genuine and welcoming. As I volunteered, people pulled me aside to chat and asked me about my life, diving straight to deeper conversations without any superfluous chit-chat. I left the center feeling fulfilled and proud.
A couple weeks later, my friends and I did some research and found a place where we could personally receive vaccinations, since they had extra doses that they were just going to throw out at the end of the day. We rushed over, and in ten short minutes, I was through the line and given my first dose. I had received the vaccine before even my own grandparents in America.
It was also exciting to be able to search for the vaccine center ourselves, making our own appointments and deciding when to go. Doctor appointments, insurance, meals, laundry — we had officially been given responsibility over most aspects of our lives. In the middle of January, my friends and I moved into our own apartment. We soon started work, and began independent and fulfilling routines. I had my first day of my internship, taking a thirty-minute bus to an office in Herzliya. The company is called “VeloQuant,” a high-frequency trading firm that creates bots with algorithms to trade stocks by the microsecond. My job was to help code these investing strategies, and I started my day learning about their system and database. I shared an office space overlooking the sea, equipped with two massive desktop computers at my desk.

With only four other employees, who were extremely welcoming, I already felt part of the company family. As typical of Israeli culture, my boss conversed with me for an hour, asking about my family life, time in Israel, Jewish identity, and more. He proceeded to tell me about his life, his work, and even mentioned his eight-year service in the army. I had my theories that he was an elite undercover Mossad (Israeli’s secret intelligence) agent, but I didn’t press him with too many questions. I returned after my first day, feeling truly satisfied to finally have a routine along with a unique work experience. But it wouldn’t last long.
The next night, I sat down for Shabbat dinner that ten of my friends and I had been working on for the last couple hours. We had spicy chicken, schnitzel, salad, potatoes, and a variety of other dishes. I bit into the chicken, and found the food surprisingly tasteless. Same with the salad. Same with the potatoes. I had completely lost my taste. We heard later that someone on our program had tested positive for COVID, and a day after my own test, the health ministry informed me about my positive result. After some confusing conversations in Hebrew over the phone, I was asked about my recent contacts and then sent into a 10-day quarantine. I was whisked away to one of our program’s buildings with thirty other kids on the program who also tested positive. I had to contact my fellow employees and boss at work, telling them they had to get tested as well. Even though they tested negative, they still had to enter a ten-day confinement…not the best first impression.
Regardless, everyone is thankfully healthy. I’m working from my computer, studying Hebrew, and working out. While definitely a setback, I will be back out in a few days and ready to restart my routine. As of now, I’m still making the most of my time here and embodying the traits of Israelis: resiliency and efficiency.

Developing My Application

By Shun

Happy New Year!

I hope that everyone is doing well amid the ongoing pandemic.

In the past few weeks, the situation in Japan has worsened severely, with many prefectures calling for a state of emergency. Although that’s made it difficult to meet with friends and explore various restaurants and cafes, it’s given me a significant amount of time to focus on programming my application.

With the application I am developing coming closer to completion, I have been contacting organizations in Japan and the United States to see if I can run trials at their facilities. It’s been especially difficult in Japan as I lack connections with schools and organizations. But last week, I was given the opportunity to trial with an organization in Ibaraki Prefecture.

This organization, known as Mokuyou Ichi Online (木曜市オンライン) takes orders for vegetables sold at a local farmers market and delivers them to people’s homes. My application was going to be used in the delivery portion of the operation, for two weeks (once a week).

At first, it was quite difficult for me to imagine a society in which vegetables were locally grown and locally distributed. Growing up in the suburbs of New York, I only knew of a society where people went to the grocery store to buy produce. However, I learned there were many people in Japan (like Ibaraki) who still depended on their crops for fresh produce.

As I made final preparations to the app to make sure it ran smoothly on the first day, a familiar sensation of nervous excitement grew within me. It was only a small trial with a few users, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to step in if something went wrong. What if it didn’t work? I pondered upon these questions continuously, but in the end, the excitement that came with seeing my app being used after months of development won over.

 In the end, the trial ended up running quite smoothly. There were no glaring issues, and the application itself received positive feedback from both the organization and the users. It was still a small trial, but a step towards a final product. I look forward to next week and the trials that are yet to come.



A Positive Test

By Maya

I got COVID-19 this month. I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan home to a university whose COVID response has left much to be desired. This has lead to an influx of infection in the community that is deeply intertwined with the university. I got COVID from a friend who got it from a student, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I tested positive and that I gave it to my mom. I was forced to confront the reality of the pandemic. Not to say that this reality didn’t already permeate all aspects of my life, but sitting alone in a room for 2 weeks knowing that you are infected gives a new dimension to the situation.

Example of Proper PPE usage. #stopthespread

I am a believer in science. I am the daughter of a doctor. I take this pandemic seriously. I got a stab up the nose and a positive result. But mostly, I got lucky. I experienced only mild symptoms for 2-3 days. I felt exactly how I was told I would feel, halfway between a cold and the flu. The thing that surprised me was the shame and guilt I felt on top of that. No one has sympathy for young people with COVID. I suppose my symptoms were hardly severe enough to deserve sympathy but I was surprised by the stigma around the virus. The few people I spent my time with were angry. I understand the risk-reward equation that is attached to any and all lifestyle choices made during a pandemic, however, some people close to me seem shocked that they could have been exposed. I did not pass the virus to anyone besides my mom, but people who were potentially exposed to me reacted with anger and shock that their bubbles could be broken. This was where the shame I felt came from. The guilt came from seeing the news report rising COVID numbers and knowing that I was included in that. The guilt came from the lives of my immediate family members who were forced into quarantine, missing work, and Halloween. The guilt came from driving my mom to the hospital in the middle of the night to make sure that she didn’t have a blood clot as a result of COVID.

I am grateful to say that I and my family are now safe and healthy. However, I am also filled with sadness for others who cannot say the same. I recognize that my experience was singular and I urge everyone to take the time to understand the changes they are taking every day. You get to decide what you are willing to risk.



Starting a New Job During COVID-19

By Amelia

I can now say that I’ve finished my first week of work as a research assistant in the Gibbs Lab at Oregon Health & Science University! The lab is focused on the study and synthesis of fluorescent dyes (known as fluorophores) for a variety of uses, ranging from nerve-sparing surgery to visualization of tumors. So my research is very interdisciplinary – I’d describe it as a mix between biomedical engineering and neuroscience and chemistry.

Although this is my first real job—not a neighborhood tutoring gig, not a weekend cat-sitting post, not a summer internship or a part-time lacrosse coach position—it’s far from my first time in this lab. Last summer (or “the summer before COVID,” as I like to think of it), I spent my eight-week internship trying to answer the same scientific question I’m now working to solve as an official employee: what is the protein target of nerve-specific fluorophore Oxazine 4?

Aside from the masks and the fact that our weekly lab meetings are now held virtually, not much has changed in the year or so that I’ve been away. The end goal is still the same: that my findings will pave the way toward gaining FDA approval and making Oxazine 4 available for use in image-guided nerve-sparing surgery—a procedure that would help surgeons avoid severing or otherwise damaging their patients’ nerves in the operating room. Before my internship last summer, I had never heard of, or even thought about, the possibility of intraoperative nerve damage. So I was shocked to learn that it’s a problem that causes pain and/or loss of function for roughly 600,000 patients every year. That simple statistic is what motivated me throughout all of last summer and continues to get me through long days in the lab!

It’s exciting to be back in the Gibbs Lab, to reunite with my former mentors and return to this familiar project! More updates to come, so stay tuned!

Customer Service in a Pandemic

By Maya

Treat customer service workers like human beings. While this is always applicable, it takes on a new meaning in the midst of a pandemic. Now, it means the lives of the workers and their families are worth no more than the minimum wage. Unfortunately, this truth seems to have been lost on much of the public.

This summer, I have been working at a locally owned ice cream shop in the middle of a college town. Parking was expensive, I made most of my wage from tips and I was constantly putting myself and my family at risk. Due to the economic challenges presented by the pandemic, which were amplified for a business that relies on the presence of college students, we got no hazard pay. In the small shop it was impossible to distance myself from coworkers, whose lives and social responsibilities I had no control over. Not to say that I hated my job. There were many positives including the friendships formed with my coworkers and of course the free ice cream. However, every shift involved asking customers to wear their mask or stand 6ft apart. Both of these often ended in an argument despite the statewide mask mandate.

This shines a light on the flaws in public health policy and management on both the macro and micro levels. As well as the politicization of the issues. I am very interested in exploring these issues in depth and paying attention to the way it plays out in the future.

I hope that as the pandemic progresses that people pay extra attention to those who make the few things we can still do possible. Ideally more people will understand that the mask is less for you and more for the person behind the counter who has served 200 people today. So mask up Blue Devils!


My New Normal

By Lhamo

I have been in quarantine for almost half a year, yet it still feels like there is no end in sight. I’ve been fortunate enough to have not caught Coronavirus thus far (at least, I think so, because I had a terrible “flu-like” disease in January that no doctor could definitively diagnose and I swear it was the silent killer), although my parents know of people who’ve died and I know of people who’ve carried it. I have collected more than enough masks and keep hand sanitizer bottles in every bag. I cross the street when someone is walking towards me. I keep my head down when I’m running through the park. I no longer can remember the euphoria of dancing in the rain after parties at two in the morning. I no longer can remember waiting in line for tacos in the scorching July heat. I no longer can remember normalcy. It’s all a haze, a distant memory that I long to relive. 

 I’ve been in quarantine for almost half a year yet it’s almost like I predicted that my dreams would never materialize. I come from strict parents. I live in a flat on the third floor of a temple and none of my friends are allowed inside. Sure, I had left home to go to boarding school three-thousand miles away when I was thirteen. I had been to a number of summer sleepaway camps. I even lived at my boyfriend’s house for a month (this one took too many speeches to finally convince my parents to allow.) Yet when I think about my gap year—July in Europe with my best friend of eleven years, September hiking in the Himalayas, my 18th birthday riding camels in Dubai, January saving turtles in the Great Barrier Reef, March in South Africa at a Great White Shark Research Institute—I wonder if my parents would have really let me jet off to someplace else without the reassurance that I would be safe (like at boarding school, where you’re required to check-in every night at some ridiculously early hour.)  

Coronavirus has been both a blessing and a punishment. I missed out on what could’ve been the best term in high school. I planned out my gap year down to the very plane tickets I would be buying just to be told I could neither pay for my expenses (because financial aid through gap year programs is much harder to receive in a global pandemic) or even leave to pursue my goals. I never got to hug my friends knowing I would likely never see them again. I spent the last four months of my senior year talking through a computer screen. I watched my graduation ceremony online.  

Yet I also found love. I found happiness. I took many days to self-reflect. I learned to live with myself and not feel uncomfortable or worthless or a failure. I truly healed just by being handed the time to. 

 When I think about these next months, I see endless possibilities. I’ve learned that there’s a silver lining to everything, even a pandemic that shuts down the world at its very core. But I’m hopeful that I will continue my journey of self-growth through being able to sit with myself, even if it may be in my room eating a PB&Jwatching Breaking Bad. 


The Beginning

By Shun

Stepping off the plane and being enveloped by the hot humid air felt different from the times in the past. There were no thoughts of rushing to the convenience store or visiting all my friends, eating home-cooked meals, or the inevitable farewell only a few days away. Rather, I was relaxed and slightly nervous, knowing this would be my new home. For the first time in my life, I had entered this country without being bound by time; I could take a moment to breathe, look around, and not have to pick out everything I wanted to eat in one run to the supermarket.  

 In retrospect, my arrival in Japan did not go the way I had imagined. For weeks leading up to that day, I had spent time saying goodbye to friends (virtually), packing, getting official documents, and preparing myself for the leap across the ocean. The suspense and excitement had reached its peak, and though COVID-19 had put some doubts in my mind, I was ready to start my adventure. But while I got off the plane knowing I had time, something that I had desired for so many years, I felt that I had lost something else; freedom.

The moment I stepped off, the 20 other passengers on the plane and I were guided to a large room to be lectured regarding how we would spend the next 14 days. After being informed that I would be self-quarantining in a hotel with little freedom, I was taken to a small area where very friendly nurses in hazmat suits gave us our PCR tests. With my nose still throbbing from the incredibly long swab used for the PCR test, I was then led to the government facilitated hotel. There I received three meals a day, had no contact with any hotel staff, and could not leave my room.  Thankfully, I was transferred to a different hotel after three days where I am now allowed occasional walks to the park, but aside from this, I remain in self-quarantine. I spend quiet days in my room daydreaming about the things I hope to do this year: developing my iPhone application, expanding the concept of “peer-mentorship” in Japan, volunteering at camps, traveling, spending time with extended family, and making friends from diverse backgrounds with many different interests, among other things. 

At times it seems like quarantine will never end, but I also know it is the start of my new adventure. Every day I wait, I become more excited about the things to come, the people I’ll meet, and the opportunities that await me. 



A Year of Firsts

Hi everyone! First of all, I’d like to introduce myself and explain a little about what I will be doing this year. My name is Sara, and I’m from Lexington, South Carolina. This fall, I’ll be staying at home to take online audited classes, hopefully get a job, and volunteer with an animal rescue and sanctuary. In the spring I’ll be studying in Spain at the University of Granada, assuming I can get out of the country. Thanks, Rona.  


 This year has and will continue to be one of many firsts for us all. Whether you are starting college online or in quarantine, going into your senior year of high school not knowing what you may or may not get to experience, or entering the job market, not knowing whether a position in your field will even be available this year or the next or the next. We live in a very uncertain time, and taking a gap year means that the next several months of my life will be even more so. As a result of my gap year, I’ve applied for a job for the first time. I’m going to be leaving the country alone for the first time. This is the first time in over thirteen years that I haven’t had a set plan for the next few months. Everything could change at a moment’s notice. This also means that many of us will experience firsts not just for ourselves, but for the world as a whole. We’ve had virtual graduations, virtual concerts, virtual trainings, virtual hangouts, virtual, virtual, virtual. We’ve even had a toilet paper shortage where I live in the United States, who would’ve ever thought.  

 All this to say, this year will be one of change, uncertainty, and a lot of firsts, whether like me, you’re taking a gap year, or you’re off on a different adventure. I, for one, look forward to the challenges and the surprises of taking a gap year in the age of COVID-19, because if there’s only one thing I know for certain; one thing I’ve learned over the past few months, it’s that uncertainty can be frightening, but it can also lead to growth, new adventures, and a whole lot of firsts. 

Planning Amid the Unpredictable

By Christina

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. 

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.  am getting certified to teach reading through Reading is Essential for All People, or REAP. 

A REAP training class!
Previous volunteer work I did with a local Title I elementary school. When the pandemic closed schools in Atlanta, the school’s staff mobilized volunteers to pack and distribute school meals to the elementary students and homemade dinners to their families.
The case study I assisted my professor in writing.  Several universities have already asked to use our case study in their classrooms!

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. 

Expressing Love From A Distance

By Sofia

Hi there! I start my first blog post with relatively little to reflect on, as it feels that my gap year hasn’t really begun. I’m floating in transition between child and adult, the end of high school and the beginning of my gap year, COVID-19 lockdown, and whatever the “new normal” looks like.

My summer began like most everyone’s: sheltered in place. While the initial adjustment was difficult to say the least, I’ve found that I genuinely enjoy spending this much time with my family of six (seven with the dog).

The kitchen has become my refuge. Cooking has allowed me to connect with my family without feeling suffocated by their constant presence. The endless supply of breads, muffins, tarts, and other foods, are my love language.

Best of all, this passion of mine has become a bridge between me and my grandmother—she’s teaching me to make paella. It’s both intimidating and incredibly comforting to make such a classic Spanish dish. Her lectures on the traditions of making paella remind me that while much of my heritage is still rather unfamiliar to me, I can still deepen my Spanish roots from across the world. While my lack of bomba rice and Valencian water (many swear by these two as the most essential ingredients) has been a bit frustrating, so far, I’ve been successful.

Here is one of my early paellas. I’m beginning to experiment with different seafood ratios, more broth, and I’ve purchased a pan big enough to feed 12 people, though I have yet to face that challenge.

Cooking lessons I’ve learned so far:

  1. Never EVER take your eyes off the paella (not even for a second). And don’t forget things in the oven.
  2. A little bit of socarrat, the charred rice at the bottom of a paella, is a delicious accident, not a mistake.
  3. The taste test is key… In every recipe.
  4. Eyeballing quantities is okay (for most dishes), it’ll probably still turn out well!*
  5. Throwing spices that smell good in a pan is a bold move, but a good one. Know the risks.*
  6. Don’t forget the salt!

*these don’t apply to paellas!

As I learn to somewhat follow recipes (I’m an impulsive cook—I make adjustments on the fly), I’m beginning to view the gap year I had planned as a recipe, one that can be modified to my future tastes. I have no idea how much of it will pan out, but for now I’m planning, awaiting my first adventure (Outward Bound), and enjoying my family, my job, and my friends (from six feet away!).