Blogging my gap semester

Attempting to maintain some structure in my life with this weekly blog

With my undergraduate coursework finished and 9 months to go before I start grad school, I’ve decided to take a leave of absence from Penn for the spring semester! I’ll be on campus in an off-campus apartment in Philly but will not be taking classes. I also decided not to take on any full-time roles until the summer, giving me 5 full months to myself with no hard commitments, responsibilities, or deadlines. I haven’t had that kind of freedom since childhood, and I plan to take advantage of every second of it!

Why I’m taking a gap semester

I initially hoped to keep this semester open as a way to give myself time to travel and see the world before starting grad school. Of course, I didn’t anticipate being in the middle of a global pandemic at the time. When study abroad and global gap year programs got canceled, I contemplated whether it would be worth it to take time off if I couldn’t travel.

However, my experience attending online classes last semester has only reinforced my desire to take a gap semester. At no fault of my professors, I felt that the quality of education I received did not justify the $30k tuition for the semester. After all, it was difficult to motivate myself to learn material that I could simply Cmmd+F to find. In addition, I had minimal interactions with my classmates and found it exhausting sitting on my laptop for hours on end (Zoom fatigue is real).

Even before last semester began, I was starting to experience severe burnout. It has felt like a nonstop grind ever since college started — even I had a break, there was always something coming up that required preparing for. This summer, I spent 6+ hours a day studying for the DAT while balancing a full-time internship and 3 part-time jobs. The load of 7 classes I took online this semester was just the nail on the coffin. This is the first real break I have with nothing I feel obligated to work towards.

Aside from taking a break, I’m hoping my time off will give me a chance to explore new interests and work on some personal projects. I’ve shuffled through a lot of hobbies in my lifetime, but very few have stuck. School has always been used as an excuse to quit, so I hope to develop consistency with at least one personal interest during this break.

Overall, I’m hoping that this gap semester will provide me much-needed rest, as well as some clarity on my priorities and goals for the future.

Some stuff I’m hoping to do

Even with my various part-time jobs, I’ll still have a significantly lighter workload than I did when classes were in session. I’m going to try to cook more and try different restaurants in Philly, rather than getting takeout from the same few places each week. When it gets a bit warmer out, I’m hoping to run more consistently and explore new trails. I’ll have my bike on campus for the first time, so I hope to see more of Philly!

I also want to revisit some of the creative activities I’ve pursued in the past. I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with music throughout my life — I hated competing for orchestra seats in high school, but today I spend nearly every waking moment with music playing in my ears. Recently, I bought an electric guitar, which I’m hoping will ease me back to making music on my own again. I have a similar goal for making art. When I was younger, drawing and crafting were therapeutic for me. During college, I became a designer and, along the way, art became work. I hope that by pursuing personal projects, I’ll learn to enjoy making art again.

While I won’t be formally taking any university classes during this time (Penn actually doesn’t allow it for students taking a leave of absence), I hope to continue learning! Even after just a week of break from school, I’m starting to feel antsy. I’ve been looking at some free online classes, as well as adding books to my to-read shelf. It’ll be interesting to see what learning for fun is like!

Although this sounds like a lot, I want to keep it flexible! If I no longer see the point of one of these goals, I won’t force myself to see it to completion. These items aren’t so much a to-do list as much as a loose framework to give me a sense of direction.

The purpose of this blog

I don’t have a specific structure for these posts in mind yet, but I plan to keep it very informal. For now, I’m thinking of writing up a summary of my weekly highlights (food I’ve tried, new skills I’ve learned, places I’ve explored, etc.). I’m also considering using this as a freeform journal for whatever stream-of-consciousness thoughts I have during the week.

Whatever the format, I hope maintaining this blog will provide some form of consistency and structure to my life while providing updates to those curious about what I’m up to during my gap semester!

If you’d like to chat about anything (I finally have the time now!), feel free to reach out at jytan@sas.upenn.edu. Thanks for reading!

Written by

student @penn & designer @pennlabs | portfolio @ jesstan.me

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