My parents are sitting in the living room with the 9 p.m. news on, my mom sipping on a cup of tea. College move-in is only a week away and my bags are all over the house, haphazardly overflowing with clothes, bedsheets and books. “I think I want to take a year off,” I tell them. The glow of the TV reflects off the glass coffee table and the reporter rambles on about the economy, the weather, maybe a corrupt politician. Alright, they tell me, okay.
Coping with the outbreak of COVID-19 was turbulent for the whole world. It accentuated the sobering acknowledgement of how fortunate some of us were to have access to the resources and communities to keep us in health and safety. At the brunt of things, it was still impossible not to hyper-fixate on its personal, objectively smaller inconveniences. But my peers and I had never dealt with a global crisis with such permeating immediacy, and I think it is worth noting the validity of the adversities we experienced, the frustration and discomposure that came with our measurably changed lives.
I was a senior in the class of 2020, completing my fourth year living in Germany. The ending to that chapter was meant to be poetic memories of a senior trip to Greece, a prom with an open bar, a ceremonial post-exam disposal of IB textbooks. All the emblematic rewards we had been promised for years were canceled and replaced with masks and online classes.
After a socially-distanced graduation ceremony, my family moved to Seoul. And I was experiencing an ugly burnout. I was burnt out from the last years of schooling across three continents, five cities and eight schools. I was burnt out from COVID-19 diminishing my goodbyes and clouding the next year with uncertainties.
I spent the summer completing forms, joining group chats and getting to know other incoming Notre Dame first years. I watched YouTube videos of game days, packed my winter clothes and planned which clubs I wanted to join. I was pushing through my subconscious fatigue and trying to ignore how unprepared I was for this transition.
My whole childhood and adolescence consisted of being the new girl every two to four years, in a new city that spoke a new language each time. In retrospect, I’m beyond grateful for my experiences and background, but I also wish I could go back and tell myself at high school graduation that it was okay to feel overwhelmed. I’d been in a never ending process of constant adjustment and adaptation, and the idea of packing up yet again for an international move on my own, amidst a global pandemic, slowly began to suffocate me.
It took the entire summer for me to email my advisor, only days before move-in, that I would defer my enrollment by a year. The University was understanding and supportive of my decision to take a breather amidst the unknowns. Today, I have full confidence that taking my gap year was the best decision I’ve ever made.
My year in Seoul was the first time I was able to spend months exploring the city and Korea, connecting with my family’s background and history. I frequented art and history museums and fell in love with my culture and discovered corners of Seoul to escape the craze of pandemic restrictions. I took coding classes and learned basic Python programming. I picked up tutoring and saved up by helping students prep for their SATs and IB exams. I got a trainer and learned how to actually use the big, intimidating gym equipment. I got my driver’s license. Then I drove myself to the beach and learned how to surf. I read books, in English and Korean, fiction, nonfiction, essays and poetry. I got really into film photography and began a modest vintage camera collection.
Four seasons came and went and the leaders of the world figured out how to get the pandemic just a little bit under control. August came back around again, and I was ready to head off to college. I think that I wrapped up my gap year as a completely different person than when I was at high school graduation. If the pandemic had never happened, I wonder if I ever would have considered taking this break. But I’m glad I did. A full year to detach myself from identifying with any one school or institution pushed me to consider myself just as I was. Not a student at some school or a part of a larger community. I found myself, a nineteen year old in her parents’ home city, feeling more grounded than ever.
Three continents, five cities and eight schools later, I know I have roots in every place I’ve been. And now, in Notre Dame.
Reyna Lim is a sophomore studying Finance with a minor in Journalism. She enjoys writing about her unsolicited opinions, assessing celebrity homes in Architectural Digest videos and collecting lip gloss. Reach out with coffee bean recommendations and 80’s playlists at firstname.lastname@example.org