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Living Through Lockdown in Europe
On October 31, the French government imposed a 6-week national lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. Considering the rapidly-increasing case count, the strict measures were absolutely necessary. However, since I was living alone in Paris at the time, this meant I would have to spend the next six weeks quarantined in my 12 x 12 foot apartment with no human interaction besides the cashier at the grocery store.
I was trying to mentally prepare myself for the isolation— and I was even considering returning to the US— when I received a call from a family friend who lives in Belgium. Having heard I was in Europe and realizing I would be quarantining alone, he offered to let me live with his family during the lockdown. So, 3 hours later, I had packed up my apartment in Paris and caught the last train for Brussels before the lockdown began.
My friends live in a renovated 150-year-old barn in the Belgian countryside about an hour from Brussels. While they live on a small plot of unfarmed land, their house is surrounded by independent farmers, and I frequently see tractors plowing crops outside my window.
I have found that the Belgian countryside is the ideal setting to spend a lockdown— farmland stretches for miles, and the rural culture provides little opportunity to catch the virus: for instance, instead of going to a crowded grocery store, we bike to a nearby farm for meat and eggs, and we buy bread from a bakery in a tiny local bakery which is almost always empty. I have especially enjoyed taking advantage of the outdoors during my time here, as the landscape is incredibly beautiful!
Additionally, while the house is far more isolated than my apartment in Paris, my French has improved during this time more than it ever would have had I remained in Paris, even if there hadn’t been a lockdown. The children in the family I am staying with speak only French, so I am constantly immersed in the language as I communicate with them.
Though this certainly wasn’t how I imagined my trip to Europe, it has been an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable experience, and I am so grateful that my friends have allowed me to stay with them during this time!
A Quarantine Birthday
8th November has – at least in the last few years – witnessed a mellow birthday celebration. A family trip to the hills, a lunch with a few close friends, or (in the midst of last year’s application season) a simple takeout from my favorite restaurant. Over the years, the appeal of a huge birthday party with all the pomp gradually faded and was replaced by a low-key gathering with no gifts. This is all to say that a raging epidemic searing through the country at an exponential pace did little to obstruct my regular birthday plans.
The celebrations this year were much of the same, barring the lunch with my friends which was replaced with a midnight Zoom call. The rest of the day saw me taking a break from my research internship and instead deciding to inhale all of Netflix with a tubful of my mother’s signature velvet mousse. As the evening came to a close, my dad had arranged for me my favorite street food: two jumbo-sized samosas from the takeout counter of ‘The Embassy’ in Connaught Place. What followed was a family game of Monopoly, where my brother and I build up our appetites the best way we know: accusing the other person of cheating endlessly. The Monopoly session concluded just in time for my all-time favorite Domino’s Pizza order: 1 medium, thin crust Chicken Dominator with a side of chicken wings and a Choco Lava Cake to top it all off.
In the last 4-5 years, I’ve always opted in for the pleasant and easy-going party instead of an all-out birthday bash. And thankfully, despite the pandemic, this year was no different
Being Part of a Social Experiment
The program I am on is called “Hevruta,” translating to ‘partners’ in Hebrew. As the only gap year program made half of North Americans and half of Israelis we are a bit of a social experiment. The Israeli Ministry of Health calls us an organic family because while we might not be a family, we are trying to live like one. In my apartment, we are seven girls all from different religious and cultural communities. My roommates are Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrachi Jews coming from homes in New York City and settlements of the West Bank. We are reconstructionist, conservative, orthodox, and secular. The only thing that binds us together is that we are all Jewish and that we now live together. Weekly, this results in challenges in figuring out what to cook and how to observe the sabbath in a way that makes everyone happy. At the same time, it’s an enriching experience. We all have different dreams of how we want to live in the future. Hearing my roommate’s dream to live on a farm in the middle of the desert inspires me to think about how I want to live in the future – not just what classes I want to take in college.
Israel is now under a national lockdown to reduce the number of coronavirus cases. This has meant that the Israelis on my program have had to spend over a month away from home instead of returning home every other weekend as expected. Ideally, the American participants would go home with them to experience Israeli culture more authentically. Many of us Americans came to Israel only expecting to see our families at the airport when we return home. Unlike American college students that often live on a college campus far from home, Israeli young adults see their families a few times a month during their mandatory military service. The pandemic has exposed many cultural differences between the American and Israeli participants. The organizers of the program have worked tirelessly to find a way to let the Israelis go home for a weekend while keeping everyone feeling safe. At the same time, these current challenges have forced us to lean on each other during difficult times and strengthened our bond.
In the last few weeks, we have been studying the relationship between American Jews and Israelis and questioning why we have chosen to be here, building relationships with people from a wide range of Jewish backgrounds. For many years what kept Jews together was a blood-relationship, shared belief, and shared hardship. Since the creation of the state of Israel, many of these ties have weakened. There is more inter-marriage among non-orthodox Jews, many Israeli Jews are secular, and anti-Semitism is something that many American Jews have never encountered. So what is the goal of strengthening a weakening bond between Israeli and American Jews? In the last few days, I’ve been thinking about the name of my program “Hevruta”, partners. At first, I thought the name was about learning in partners, something we will be doing throughout the year. Recently, I’ve been thinking that maybe it is the goal – to become partners in preserving a Judaism that is tolerating and accepting of different traditions. This is something that my roommates and I have been working towards by having a kosher kitchen and observing the sabbath in public spaces. While these efforts are small, I think they are the first steps towards us becoming partners and hopefully a family.
A New Independence
An integral part of life is conversing with new people, making first impressions, and forming relationships. While meeting people is always exciting, after bursting out of a two-week strict quarantine into a crowd of 300 Americans, Latin Americans, and Israelis, we were all a bit overwhelmed. Conversations were a bit slow to start.
“Great weather we’re having!”
“Thanks, you too. Ah…I mean…yeah.”
“Hi I’m Chicago from Sammy… Crap.”
However, we overcame our initial shock and soon, we were leaping to meet one another. Hebrew, Spanish, and English resounded in my ears as I introduced myself to new people, forgot their names, and reintroduced myself five minutes later. My roommates and I headed back to our room after our first late night on campus, fascinated about the diversity on the campus. After conversing with native-speakers in their languages, learning about other cultures, and exploring the campus, I knew that this was going to be a unique semester.
Lockdown was tough at first. Right after the quarantine, Israel went on a nation-wide lockdown, restricting us to the campus of the Machon L’Madrichim. The institution is home to numerous youth groups and movements from around the world, offering various classes, fabulous teachers, and real-life application from tours throughout Israel. However, as all the major Jewish holidays were back-to-back during September-October, classes didn’t start for the first two weeks, and we could not leave the campus. While the area was better than my cramped room, I was itching to explore the streets of Jerusalem. Yet all of the participants on our program had a remarkably positive outlook. Being stuck on campus allowed everyone to come together as a group, instead of going out each night in our own cliques. Often, the first couple weeks with a new group are filled with surface-level conversations, simple questions, and friendly small talk; however, I immediately started talking with others about our perspectives on life, challenges we’ve faced, and hopes for the future. During the day we participated in bonding programs and had various lectures about Israeli topics (culture, cinema, wars). Disappointed by the lack of organized services for the High Holidays, my friends and I coordinated with the Latin Americans to run powerful Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services. After services in the day, the nights consisted of competitive soccer games between the Latin Americans and the “gringos.”
Yet I was still missing a feeling of independence, of freedom in a way. As a new friend explained to me, “I took a gap year so that I can fall down and learn to pick myself up.” While grateful to be among such an interesting group, I felt enclosed in the gates, missing out on the independence I expected to have every night out in the city. Thus, when I heard we were traveling down south to Kibbutz Ketura for a couple days, I was elated. Kibbutzim are collective, socialist communities throughout Israel, with a focus on agricultural production. Living on the Kibbutz among the tight-knit community, surrounded by mountains in the deep desert, I felt my first real sense of freedom in Israel.
With new experiences and new settings, people grow closer. During the day at the Kibbutz, we worked the fields, volunteering to help pick nuts and dates. At night, we wandered around the Kibbutz and in the various surrounding areas, breathed in the fresh desert air, and looked at the countless stars in an unpolluted sky.
Classes began upon returning from the Kibbutz, and I was met with an intense schedule full of courses unlike anything I’d seen (I’ll save the details for another blog). On one excursion, we traveled to this area that overlooks all of Jerusalem. Looking over the entire city among new friends, I was filled with excitement and hope for the year: diverse friends, undiscovered places, distinct classes, and a unique sense of freedom and self-care that I had not yet encountered.
This year will be undoubtedly unique and, with the independence I’m given, entirely in my hands. It’ll be what I make of it—who I meet, where I’ll go, and what I’ll push myself to learn.
Gratitude in the Q
Two weeks in a tiny room, shared with three other people.
Feel free to leave the room, as long as you are okay with losing $30,000 and being kicked off the program, deported, and banned from coming back to Israel for the next ten years. Someone from another program left the room to try and fix the Wi-Fi router and suffered the consequences, so we haven’t really tried bending the rules. At least we have a gorgeous view.
While strict and relentless, these are the measures Israel has to impose in order to accept more than 16,000 Americans into their country amid the pandemic. While I’m upset that I cannot explore the streets of Jerusalem and meet others on the program, I understand the restrictions. So where does that leave me? With time. Lots and lots of time. During the year, I can never get enough free time. I’m constantly busy and want more time to relax. Now, I have an abundance of it. At first, I was bored and bitter. But then I realized what a valuable gift I was given. I had two entire weeks to sleep, relax, workout, read, catch up with friends (when the calls went through), write, converse, and learn Hebrew. This may seem like the most mundane schedule ever; however, after realizing how rare it is to have time without responsibility to school or a job, I started to appreciate the surplus of relaxing time instead of resenting it. And in doing so, the two weeks have somehow shot by. I know, two weeks in severely strict quarantine should have been the longest two weeks of my life, but they have somehow been a blur.
A mindset of gratitude truly allows you to live in the moment, enjoying the situation before yourself despite the circumstances. Since I found a way to be grateful for the two-week, no-nonsense confinement, I don’t think it’ll be hard to find ways to be grateful for every other aspect of the trip, starting with the country-wide three-week lockdown, which starts the day after quarantine is over. Once we are done with quarantine, we’ll be confined to the campus for the following three weeks due to the lockdown. However, following the quarantine, the three weeks of freedom to go anywhere on the small campus will seem incredible. Gratitude, I think, is one of the most underrated of emotions. There have been spells where I am constantly regretting the past and/or dreading the future, ignoring what’s before me. During those times, I find myself to be much less happy, as I’m completely missing the present. Without gratitude for the “NOW,” you miss out on your life. Gratitude is maybe the most important key to fulfillment and happiness. When people are sincerely grateful for what’s before them, they can be happy. Kohelet, one of the fabled Jewish scholars, debates the meaning of life. He constantly goes back to the notion that all is futile and finite, explaining that all you can truly do is be grateful and enjoy the pleasures of life.
Yet gratitude is also situational, elusive, and often difficult to achieve. An American may leave for the day, grabbing a can of soda, and be on his way. Yet an African who never tasted a pop drink in his life could grab the same can of soda with an immense amount of gratitude. The more you have, the harder it is to be grateful for the same things. By looking at the world and life as a whole, I have been able to find gratitude for the “NOW.” It can be hard to notice the simple pleasures of life that not everyone enjoys, such as friends, a healthy body, even glasses. Rather than look at the specific circumstances of a situation in regards to my life, I try to find something special that anyone could be grateful for, even in the seemingly “less desirable” situations. Even a two week quarantine can be seen as a blessing.
Silver Linings in Jerusalem
On this quiet Shabbat evening I sit alone on the couch while my new roommates nap. There’s not much else to do at the moment. Jerusalem has restrictions in place requiring American students to quarantine for two weeks, and at times, without proper motivation (and with 108-degree weather), we find ourselves struggling to keep busy. I must acknowledge, however, that I lucked out to be put in quarantine with five guys who, apart from being incredibly nice, like to cook. Although I didn’t meet anyone from my program before getting off the flight to Israel, four of my five roommates were on my flight.
The moment I entered Terminal C at Newark International Airport I was already in Israel. Hundreds of Jews, young and old, crowded the check-in. My parents and I felt shocked both by how few safety precautions there seemed to be in place, but also by how many kippahs and head coverings we saw. While in line to check my bags, a boy with peyes, a button-down shirt, and a kippah introduced himself to me and asked about my plans in Israel. Before letting me answer, though, he began to talk about all of the different Yeshivot (educational institutions where generally more Orthodox Jews attend), where he and his friends were going and proceeded to ask me what I thought of them. “In all honesty”, I responded apologetically, “I don’t know much about Yeshivot or many other religious institutions where Jewish teens go. I’m going to Israel on a pluralistic program because I want to better understand the Jewish community in Israel and become acquainted with a part of my identity that my family and close community cherish deeply.” With that the boy, who seemed surprised by my unfamiliarity, gave me a kind smile and left to check his bags.
After a long awaited and dreaded goodbye from my parents, I proceeded to the gate. Again, I became overwhelmed by the enormous crowd of young Jews as I passed through a second, more intense, round of security. I knew very few people in Israel and didn’t know what to expect from this partially foreign country, so when I watched all the young men congregate together in excitement, talking about all the friends and family they’d visit as soon as arriving, I grew nervous. Of course, I was incredibly excited for the coming year in Israel, but did I really belong? I haven’t gone to Jewish school for six years and have become increasingly more secular as I’ve gotten older. Maybe Israel isn’t meant for me.
Luckily once I got on the plane, I found my friend Maia from home. Her much needed familiar face relieved my growing anxiety, and our long talks during the flight helped me remember why I chose to come to Israel in the first place. We both shared the same intimidated sentiment towards the pack of Yeshiva boys, but the two of us also belong to the same Jewish Latino community in D.C. that has a strong connection to the land of Israel. As I’ve become more secular, I feel as though I’ve started to view my community through an outsider’s lens, and although that has given me new insights, I still want to be able to understand through experience what Israel means to my community. So I’ve come to Jerusalem, the most holy Jewish city in the world, on a program where I’m one of the least religious students, and subsequently it feels a bit awkward. But I know why I’m here, and I believe, regardless of what state the country is in politically and with regards to Covid, that I will experience something incredibly important, worthwhile, and fun.
The last few days have seen the hottest recorded temperatures in Jerusalem since before the founding of Israel…and we have no air conditioning. But somehow this past week has still been one of the highlights of my year. Being locked in a room with five other guys helps you bond in a way that is simply impossible in any other circumstance. Just yesterday, after exercising on my tiny balcony, I did yoga with my roommates, made them a classic Mexican egg dish for breakfast, took a much-needed online Hebrew lesson with them, reorganized our fans into the perfect configuration, played board games for hours, and made banana bread with my five new friends. I participated as best I could as two of them led our room in blessings for our Shabbat dinner and felt incredibly welcomed as they patiently explained to me the customs and blessings that I was unfamiliar with. I’ve known these guys for only one week, and yet I feel as if I’ve grown up with them since early childhood
Unlike some other participants on my program, I have no intention of becoming more religious over the course of this year. Still, I hope to learn from my new modern-orthodox, conservative, reform, and reconstructionist friends about their own customs and beliefs. I originally also hoped to be able to explore Israel on my own during free weekends, but with the recent announcement of a nationwide lockdown, I may have to adjust my expectations for the year. Nevertheless, I find myself more excited now than ever over being part of this program and being surrounded by young adults who, like me, hope to learn from each other and expand each other’s understanding of what it means to be Jewish.
Three Weeks, Two Different Worlds
A lot of people say the secret to happiness is living with low expectations, but I disagree; how can you possibly be happy if you maintain a pessimistic outlook? Instead, I have adopted the no expectations approach. In my last blog, I had grumbled about the lack of information given to me about my program, but my ignorance worked to my benefit regarding my two-week quarantine. I wasn’t disappointed at the dingy apartment we were placed in, and I was surprised and pleased when the program manager mentioned we could sit outside. When I told anyone that I had quarantined for two weeks they flashed a pitying smile and asked if I went crazy. But, in fact, I enjoyed two of my most relaxing weeks ever. Although I was cooped up, I experienced an unexpected sense of freedom. Usually, when you have time off from school or you’re on vacation, you feel pressure to do something: meet up with friends or family, have a cultural experience, cook something… But since we couldn’t do anything in quarantine, we could just be. My roommate and I spent our days reading, exercising, sitting outside, and watching Israeli tv shows (pro tip: watch a show on reduced speed to improve your language skills).
Of course, despite a rather pleasant quarantine, we left the second we could. We had a free week before our program started, so like any youngster in Israel with time to kill, we headed to Tel Aviv! We had a blast doing the usual activities: going to the beach, buying fruit and chachkas in Shuk HaCarmel (the Carmel Market), and roaming the slightly disheveled, art-deco streets. We did, however, have one rather unusual experience. My friend read about an outdoor play at the Jaffa Theatre in the Jerusalem Post and asked if we could go. I had lacked cultural stimulation for the previous five months due to Corona, so I jumped at the chance to see a play. I was surprised that I not only loved the play but also understood most of it! We were so impressed with the acting that we approached the actors and asked them to sign a program as a memento. They stared back at us incredulously, so flattered that they invited us to their next show! I hope we can make it, but I’m not setting any expectations in stone.
I’ve probably spent more time in my apartment in the last two weeks than I will spend in the next few months. Two weeks ago, I boarded a flight to Israel with a folder full of immigration documents and an agreement that I would spend my first two weeks in quarantine without leaving my apartment. Luckily, I’ve been able to spend my time with my two roommates and followed a daily schedule that made my quarantine go by a lot faster.
Each day, one of my roommates and I would wake up, unroll our yoga mats, and workout to a carefully curated selection of YouTube workout videos. This was honestly one of the most rewarding things I did during quarantine because, although we were locked inside, it made it feel that for a few minutes we exited are apartment and got in some movement. We would usually finish our workouts tired and sweaty and very grateful to be greeted with a box full of food waiting for us at our door. Lunch often consisted of chicken and popular Israeli side dishes such as Israeli salad, baba ghanoush, and hummus. At 2:00 pm, I would join a zoom class of other kids on my program and learn Hebrew with a local teacher. I learned a random but useful assortment of words that will hopefully help me order food at restaurants and explore Jerusalem without getting too lost. The following online class was taught by the parents of my friends in quarantine, who volunteered from their homes in the United States to teach about subjects they are experts on. Some of my favorites were “What is Freedom of Religion” taught by a law professor who pushed us to examine the ethics behind what religious practices can be supported by the U.S. government and “How to Make Peace—Or not— in the Middle East: Lessons from a Former State Department Negotiator.” For a relaxing end of the day, I’d join the zoom yoga or art class with my roommates.
During the weekend, I had a break from my daily zoom activities and spent time reflecting and taking in the city. In Jerusalem, secular Jews are a minority, and from Friday through Saturday evening, the city goes to sleep. Despite being in a city it’s quiet. Occasionally, I’ll see a couple walk by but the people that regularly shop at the market across the street are gone and so are the cars that drive by. From my bedroom window, I can see the people in the apartment complex behind mine coming together to pray, some from their balconies and others spread across the lawn. Although it’s quiet, there’s a sense of unity and peace that radiates and that I could feel even from quarantine. To me, living in Jerusalem for a year is a commitment to a way of life in which I hope to value spirituality and religion in my daily life rather than only on Shabbat. The Israeli flags on Jerusalem-stone houses across the street from my apartment remind me of the historical and religious importance of where I am. At the same time, this overt nationalism reminds me of what a privilege it is to feel at home in a city that people different religious and ethnic backgrounds hold so closely.
Yesterday my fourteen-day quarantine ended and I’m surprised that I’ll miss the time I had to reflect and spend time with my quarantine roommates. I’m finally meeting the people I regularly saw on zoom calls and walking down the street that I spent so much time looking at. I’m hoping that I’ll continue to learn from introspection in the way I did in quarantine and also begin to learn from people who experience Jerusalem differently than I do so I can further understand what makes Jerusalem a sacred but deeply contentious place.
A Quarantine Cooking Adventure: Ecuadorian Edition
I’ll admit it. My spring semester didn’t go as planned. But then again, in this crazy year of 2020, whose spring has? I thought I would still be in Ecuador during this time. I thought I would be learning Spanish, giving art classes to students, and spending time with my Ecuadorian host family. I thought I would be exploring the downtown of Cuenca or hiking through the highland terrain of Cajas National Park. But here I am, back home because a global pandemic had a different plan for my gap year.
Of course I am disappointed that my time in Ecuador was cut short, but I am also incredibly thankful to have spent the two months I did learning and growing in an international setting. And that growth hasn’t stopped upon returning home. It’s been different for sure, but I’ve tried to continue my path of learning through online Spanish classes and conversations with my Ecuadorian friends and family members. But most importantly, I’ve been keeping up my “studies” of Ecuadorian cuisine.
During quarantine, it seems cooking (and baking) has become the new favorite pastime of many Americans. I have never been a cook (unless you count peanut butter jelly sandwiches and scrambled eggs as cooking phenomena), but I decided there was no better time than a stay-at-home order to try something new. Ambitiously, I decided to recreate several of my favorite Ecuadorian dishes in my American kitchen.
Surprisingly, with help from my family, we accomplished the impossible: a somewhat authentic, astonishingly tasty Ecuadorian meal. I’ve included my adapted recipes; in case you’re interested or have the inclination to become an amateur Ecuadorian chef this quarantine. ¡Buen provecho!
Llapingachos: Potato pancakes
- 6 russet potatoes, peeled
- 1 white onion, finely chopped
- Typically, achiote is used, but I substituted 1 tsp cumin, ¼ tsp turmeric, and ¼ tsp paprika
- Around 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, shredded
- Salt and pepper
- Vegetable oil
- Flour, if needed
- Peel the russet potatoes and boil until soft.
- As the potatoes are boiling, add oil and chopped onions to a skillet. Cook until the onions are translucent and soft. Pro tip from my mom: to keep them from burning, add a little vegetable or chicken stock to the onions as they cook.
- Once the onions are soft, add the seasoning (cumin, turmeric, and paprika). This will create a refrito, or a “flavor base,” that is then added to the potatoes.
- Now, mash the potatoes until smooth and add in the onions.
- Once mixed, shape the potato mixture into small cup-like structures with a pocket in the center. Fill this pocket with cheese and cover with more of the potato. Once fully covered, shape the round ball into more of a patty shape. If the potato mixture is too crumbly, try adding some flour.
- When the patties are ready, cook them on a skillet until golden brown. This is probably the hardest step as the potato pancakes never really “firm-up.” However, we found that using canola oil and heating it up before putting the patties on the skillet makes the process a lot easier. Don’t be afraid to add a lot of oil!
- I like to eat llapingachos with avocado slices and curtido recipe included below, but lots of Ecuadorians eat them with salsa de mani (peanut sauce).
Curtido de cebolla y tomate: Onion and tomato salad
- 1 large red onion
- 6 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 large tomatoes
- 5 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1 tbsp salt
- Cut the onion into very thin slices (we used a mandoline slicer) and place in a bowl.
- Cover the onions with the tablespoon of salt and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes.
- After this, cover the onions with water and let sit for 10-15 minutes again. Rinse the onions and drain.
- Add the lime juice and a pinch of salt to the onions and let sit for 45 minutes. The onions should lose most of their acidic flavor.
- Once the onions are ready, cut the tomatoes into thin slices (again, we used a mandoline slicer to get them thin).
- Add the tomatoes, oil, and cilantro to the onion and lime mixture. Serve with the llapingachos and avocado slices.
Morocho: Ecuadorian sweet drink with corn
- 1 can white hominy corn (can be found at most groceries stores in the Mexican aisle)
- 6 cups milk
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1/3 cup sugar
- Place the can of hominy (after being washed and strained) into a pot. Add the milk and cinnamon sticks.
- Cook on low heat for about 3 hours, stirring every now and then.
- After 3 hours or so, add the sugar and cook for 30-45 more minutes. The more time simmering will increase the cinnamon flavor.
- Serve warm.
On the Eleventh Week in Quarantine
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!).