‘It’s strange’: UC Berkeley students reflect on decision to take gap semester

Sproul Hall
Sunny Shen/Senior Staff
As the fall 2020 semester kicks off virtually, some UC Berkeley students have opted to take a gap semester, instead choosing to use this time to pursue various academic, professional, and personal aspirations.

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Disappointed with the virtual college experience, UC Berkeley students who elected to withdraw this semester are still keeping busy.

Students taking a gap year are doing a variety of work in and outside of Berkeley. Although many are still participating in online extracurriculars or living in Berkeley, some said it feels as if real life is on hold.

The main reason cited for taking a gap year or semester was the experience of virtual learning combined with the high cost of tuition.

“I’m out of state and it was simply really hard to justify to myself paying so much for the online college experience,” said Mindy Dai in a Facebook message. “I still feel rather melancholy about it because I know that it’s not really the same Berkeley as I knew.”

Dai, who would have been a campus senior, will still be living in Berkeley for her part-time job in the co-ops and will try to find inner zen in her free time.

Some students who were originally slated to graduate this fall made the decision to take a gap semester and graduate in the spring so they could graduate with friends.

Omkar Waingankar, who would have been a campus senior, elected to withdraw and continue his summer internship at a startup rather than graduate early.

“Now my only reasons for staying in school are for personal development and growth,” Waingankar said in a Facebook message.

Other UC Berkeley students have returned to their home countries. David Lim, who would have been a campus sophomore this fall, took online classes during the spring 2020 semester and found it difficult to focus or seek help during office hours.

After the fall 2020 semester went virtual, Lim decided to complete his mandatory military service in Korea before returning.

“Being away from campus has made me miss all the small things that I took for granted,” Lim said on Facebook Messenger. “Not only do I miss running into my friends while going to lectures, but also the overnight study sessions at Main Stacks (which, at the time, I hated).”

By the end of Lim’s 18-month military service in May 2022, he said he hopes that there will no longer be a pandemic.

Michał Nehring, who would have been a campus senior this fall, said he did not mind postponing his graduation until classes are back offline.

“There’s more to studying than just attending classes,” Nehring said on Facebook Messenger. “It’s also about interactions, meeting new people and participating in and contributing to the life of the campus.”

This semester, Nehring will be working for the Ministry of Climate in Poland, fulfilling his passion for work in the public sector.

Liam Duncan, who would have been a campus senior, is doing remote research with the John Coates Laboratory and tutoring to save up money for graduate school. Zoe Merz, who would have been a campus senior, is working full-time as an intern for ZestBio, a biosynthesis startup in Emeryville. Jackson Starkey, who would have been a campus junior, is taking community college classes to transfer the credits to fulfill breadth requirements.

“No point to rush, especially in these times,” said Waldo Chavez, who would have been a campus senior, in a statement. “Just because we took a gap semester doesn’t mean that we’re wasting time.”

Chavez is currently in San Diego, working at an internship with the city.

As for whether or not UC Berkeley students are returning to campus in the spring, some said they would re-enroll to graduate on time, while others said their decision will be dependent on whether spring is online.

“Berkeley has become my home by now,” Duncan said in a Facebook message. “It feels like I’m on a very extended school break, and real life is on hold until I get back. I definitely miss it.”

Contact Catherine Hsu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @catherinehsuDC.