If you had asked me back in June what I’d be doing in August I would have dreamily envisioned myself sitting in a classroom discussing some totally geeky topic with five other students and a college professor, or grabbing a latte from the campus coffee shop before meeting up with some friends to study in the library together. I never would have guessed I’d be sitting on a plane, heading for the other side of the country with no academic plans ahead of me for the next four months.
But there I was, flying out to the state of Washington in true Corona-style: putting up with the minor inconvenience of wearing a mask for six hours and thoroughly enjoying the entire row of seats to myself. I smiled with excitement as the plane climbed and Boston shrank away. As we broke through the cloud layer all I saw below was a vast blanket of white fluff. In the back of my mind I heard the bewildered remarks of friends echoing: “You never met these people? You don’t even know what they look like? You’re sleeping in a camper for two months?” But overpowering the worry that maybe I was crazy, foolish, or impulsive was my excitement and relief: I was finally moving out.
My plans for the fall had changed at the very last minute. It seemed like in the last couple of years everything I did was building up to going off to college and I was really excited for it. However, as the summer progressed and the Covid-19 situation didn’t seem to be improving at all, my hopes started getting dashed, and fear crept in.
Based on my college newsletters it appeared that all my classes would be online. Many campus buildings (including the dining hall) would be closed and students would not be sharing a room with a roommate. I pictured myself getting up in the morning, grabbing a to-go meal from the dining hall and bringing it back to my room to eat by myself, then logging on to my Zoom class as I sat in bed – and repeating that routine every day. I panicked. I imagined that I’d feel isolated and trapped, even more than what I was already feeling.
With just four hours to go before the deadline to request a gap semester, I decided that’s what I wanted to do and submitted my information to Mt. Holyoke. I ended up finding a work-exchange program in Washington state where I would stay on a small farm for two months and then fly to New Mexico to stay with family friends for a few weeks before returning to Bedford.
In Washington, I stayed in a little Aloha camper next to my host family’s house. Behind the house was a garden I helped weed; I also harvested crops, built a new berry cage, and picked plums, pears, figs, and apples from the fruit trees scattered around the property. In the mornings I collected chicken and duck eggs. When I got to New Mexico the sunny weather allowed for lots of bike riding around Albuquerque, walking through Old Town, and visiting amazing parks featuring everything from steep canyons to vast marshes to other-worldly Badlands.
During the trip, I had moments of doubt and insecurity. I wondered if I was being impractical pushing off my studies just because I didn’t like the idea of starting college in that way. Was I being selfish flying across the country despite all of the health experts advising people to stay at home?
At times I felt lonely and jealous of friends who had chosen to go to college and were meeting new people and enjoying campus life despite all the rules and restrictions. But in times like those, I tried to reassure myself that conventional classes are not the only way to make friends, learn things, and work toward an independent future.
The places I saw, the hands-on tasks I learned how to do, and the relationships I made or strengthened were also valuable. Looking back on it, I had a really positive experience and I have no regrets.
All that being said, I’m ready to get back into the academic swing of things so I have applied to be enrolled on-campus for the second semester. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high considering the fact that for the first semester many colleges ended up being completely remote and Corona is still spreading as rapidly as ever. But I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve accepted the possibility of remote learning from home.
I like to think of this past fall as a semester I “saved” for later to fully experience when things are as back to normal as they’ll ever be.