Gunn alumni’s post-high school plans disrupted by COVID-19
October 1, 2020
Freshman athlete Nicole Smith’s season postponed
In August, a few states north of California, Gunn alumna Nicole Smith was just kicking off a fledgling soccer preseason with the University of Washington when several members of her team fell sick from the infamous novel coronavirus. Two weeks after settling in a dormitory with her new teammates, Smith found herself packing home for the rest of the summer, where she remained until returning to Seattle last week.
It seemed that the pandemic had already slide-tackled Smith’s first year of college: her highly-anticipated soccer season in the PAC-12 league was stripped of all games by the time she returned for the start of the school year. “Usually we’d be on our first, second or third game by now,” she said. “Instead, our season doesn’t start until January.”
In response to the global health crisis, her university has changed tactics with a number of safety measures. As an athlete, Smith must complete daily symptom reports, submit to weekly COVID-19 testing and receive a flu shot. Precautionary guidelines have kept her social life limited. “You don’t get to meet people in the cafeteria or in the dorms because you’re not supposed to congregate anywhere,” Smith said. “There aren’t places to go sit down, get food or see people. I’ve only been able to get to know people in the athletics bubble.”
Regardless, Smith has enjoyed the change of scenery. While she misses Palo Alto’s year-round pleasant weather—which, let’s face it, no city could beat—Seattle has its fair share of rain and clear air. “The campus is super beautiful, very green—I feel like I’m breathing in fresh air all of the time,” she said. “It’s right next to this district, so there are a lot of shops and stuff. On the other side are parks, and the water’s nearby.”
A foodie fanatic, she has most savored taking advantage of the local restaurant selection; the sightseeing can wait. According to Smith, the district’s salient feature is its tasty Mexican and Thai cuisine.
As the school year begins, Smith is ready to get the ball rolling with her online classes. It seems, after a stuttering start and months of warming up, any interaction is fair game. “I’ve been waiting and waiting,” Smith said. “It seems like forever, since I haven’t been in school since March. I’m just excited to get going.”
Sophie Alexis’s gap year travels take a different route
Gunn alumna Sophie Alexis had the perfect gap year planned—a year abroad studying in Morocco, exploring the Muslim-majority country and learning Arabic. Now? She’s staying in her friend’s apartment in New York, sleeping on an air mattress and writing college essays.
Alexis originally planned to take a gap year so that she could continue to develop before she left for college. “I felt like I really needed to grow as a person, and there was this really awesome program that I wanted to do,” she said. “I wanted to go to college with more of a college mindset rather than a continuation of a high school mindset.” But in spring, she got some unfortunate news: her program to travel to Morocco was cancelled, and it “completely changed [her] entire plan.”
The situation was particularly complicated because Alexis hadn’t applied to all the colleges she wanted to, only applying to British schools for deferred enrollment, so she didn’t have an option to go directly to college when her program was cancelled. “[In senior year], I didn’t feel ready to make a choice about college, honestly,” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t in the right place as a person, right, to sort of decide where I wanted to spend the next four years of my life.”
With no plan for her gap year, Alexis spontaneously decided to join her friends who moved to the East Coast so they could be in the same time zone as their virtual college classes. “It was pretty spur of the moment,” she said. “I decided [to move] for sure about two weeks before, and then we went.”
Now, Alexis spends her days going on runs in Central Park, doing household chores and grabbing boba with her friends. She’s also gotten involved in a few different community organizations. Right now, she is working to start an international journal about the importance of studying abroad. She’s also helping Wave Learning Festival, an education nonprofit, apply for financial grants. “I figured, like, I’m not doing anything now,” she said. “I might as well do this.”
One of the best parts about taking a gap year for Alexis is her newfound self-sufficiency. “There’s a lot of independence,” she said. “I can go wherever, and do whatever, obviously within social distancing limits. There’s a freedom of choice, and it’s great.”
Alexis is not sure if she achieved the personal growth she’d hoped for. “I can’t say exactly if I’ve grown as a person, because I feel the same day-to-day, but looking back at my pre-pandemic days—I feel like, yeah, it’s hard to quantify but I feel like I have changed,” Alexis said.
For everyone else thinking about taking a gap year, especially if COVID-19 persists, Alexis isn’t sure if she recommends doing it. “There’s so much uncertainty right now,” she said. “There’s no right decision—you do you. If your circumstances are such that taking a gap year would not be good for you right this moment, then don’t take a gap year.”
As for her own experience, Alexis doesn’t know how it’ll turn out, but she’s pretty sure her journey will be worth it. “Honestly, I can’t say how it’s gonna turn out,” she said. “I might totally regret it by the end, especially during this time, and I might not. But I feel like, whether or not I regret it, I’m happy now that I did it. I’m okay with whatever the outcome is.”