During the fall 2020 semester, students have been taking advantage of the opportunity to pursue unique experience, such as living outside of South Bethlehem or taking a gap semester, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted traditional education.
Andrew Bosland,‘22, took one humanities course and worked part-time as a landscaper, traveling to California and Hawaii. He said his weeks consisted of three days of landscaping and two days of attending his philosophy class.
He decided to take a philosophy class instead of classes toward his finance major. Bosland said his decision to take time off as a student stems from his opinions on remote learning.
“I feel that you don’t retain as much, if any, information in remote classes,” Bosland said.
Will Blatchford, ‘23, said he decided to take a gap semester this fall because he thought he wouldn’t be able to access the resources he needed to successfully complete his coursework.
He said as a prospective architecture major, it’s difficult to take classes that involve hands-on work remotely.
“It was up in the air,” he said. “We weren’t really sure if we were going back or not and once they decided that only freshmen were going back, I decided I would take a semester off.”
Alex Charney, ‘21, decided to take his remote classes on Sun Moon Farm, a Community Supported Agriculture model farm in Rindge, New Hampshire, that grows and sells local vegetables. He said he decided on this location because he thought living on a farm and working while in school was a productive way to make the best of COVID-19 and remote learning.
“Scheduling and finding work in the first place was really hard,” Charney said. “There were days when the horses or goats ran away, so I had no choice but to run out of class after the animals before they got to the road.”
Charney said his participation grade in some classes might be negatively affected by his constant internet connection issues, however, he said it was all worth it in the end because he took advantage of an opportunity made possible by the pandemic.
Evie Richardson, ‘24, said she decided to defer her start at Lehigh two weeks before the fall semester began. She said there were concerns about the nature of online learning and socialization barriers presented by the pandemic.
“I really just wanted to make those connections with my professors,” she said. “I’m also a really social person, and I wanted to make a lot of good friendships during my first year.”
Richardson said she wasn’t sure how she would spend her time during the fall semester, but eventually decided to become an EMT. She said she received her certification in November and felt the need to continue her education outside of school.
Joss Duff, ‘23, was originally taking classes at home, but said he struggled to accomplish his academic work from that location. As a computer science and business student, Duff tried to get a computer science internship with a professor at the University of Iceland. He sent an email to every professor in the computer science department at the University of Iceland with an explanation of his situation, his interest in Iceland, his resume and his transcript.
“I figured the worst-case scenario was that I would just get no replies,” Duff said. “I got three replies out of about 15 emails, two of them politely telling me, ‘No,’ but one of them actually offered me an opportunity to help with his project.”
Duff moved to Iceland at the beginning of October to work on a project. He took his remote classes while assisting the professor and will return home in mid-December.
“Remote classes have been going much better for me since I moved away from home, but classes on campus are still the best way for me to learn,” Duff said.
Sarah McCall, ‘23, took remote classes for the majority of the fall semester. However, she decided to begin a medical leave of absence a few weeks ago, which she plans to extend until the end of the spring semester.
“Mostly it was just for my mental health,” McCall said. “I’ve been dealing with it for a while. The combination of the pandemic and just everything else going on … it all just kind of built up to a point where I just needed to take a break.”
McCall said she’s taking the time to focus on herself and do many of the activities she wouldn’t usually have time for during a normal semester.
“I’m basically just doing activities that will make me happy,” McCall said. “I’ve been mostly cleaning and playing with my cat. I’ve been going on runs, and I’ve been getting back into sewing and cooking.”
Richardson said she’s not planning on taking any classes during the spring semester. Instead, she hopes to pursue an internship with Global Health and Leadership in Fiji, if the current circumstances allow.
“I definitely want to give back during this time and experience new cultures,” she said.
Blatchford said he decided to take next semester off, too. He said he plans to work as a lift operator for Deer Valley Ski Resort.
Blatchford said despite some concerns about falling behind his peers academically, he feels he’s made the right choice.
“I still have three more years left of college, and meanwhile, everyone else is going to be a year ahead, but theoretically there’s so many people who don’t do college, or take gap years in between,” Blatchford said. “I think it will give me more of a chance to experience college as it was, versus how it is now.”