How My Gap Year Prepared Me For COVID-19

April 20, 2020
Chloë DennisFellow Voices

We live in a fast-paced, pressure-oriented modern society, and for many people can the idea of sitting alone without at least one distraction can be terrifying. For the longest time, my idea of healthy seclusion involved hours of media with as many things to get myself out of my mind as possible. I didn’t quite realize I was operating this way before taking a gap year. Not to say that this hasn’t been (and continues to be) an ongoing process, but it was a whole bunch of small realizations that transformed how I view what I call “momentary seclusion” or grounding oneself by looking closer at the moments that are usually taken for granted.

Last fall, I started my gap year by traveling to a small fishing village on the island of Bali, Indonesia, for ten weeks. I was lucky to have already had a basic experience of traveling, so the transition into Balinese life wasn’t the hardest part. The hardest part was filling in the gaps with myself. I often think about how “loud” my life was in high school, the constant noise of keeping up with everything from my six classes to peer drama to what was going on in the world. On top of that, there was also the transition from a highly structured schedule in high school (wake up, go to school, do extracurriculars, go home, do homework, go to bed, repeat) to independent choices (what do I really care about when no one is telling me where to be?). All of a sudden, it was much “quieter.”

In Indonesia, I was able to bask in how the locals experience being. Balinese culture celebrates small routines such as smiling at anyone who walks by or the consistency of checking in. I noticed that when you surround yourself with others’ warmth you realize the importance they hold and how grounding that can be for you as an individual. This was one of my biggest takeaways during my time abroad, and I knew this realization would help me when I went back to the U.S., one of the most fast-paced societies in the world.

The good news: it did! For the second part of my gap year, I went to San Francisco and I realized that by applying intentional practice and habit building I could ground myself anywhere. I felt like I could conjure up small pockets of momentary seclusion whenever I wanted to, and that was powerful. While I was in San Francisco I took workshops on articulating my values, exploring growth mindset, understanding rejection therapy, and effective storytelling. Combined with spaces of momentary seclusion, these workshops helped point me in the direction of learning more about myself. Of course, it’s one thing to experience all of this without a global pandemic in the background. That being said, my time and lessons learned in Bali and San Francisco really prepared me for these highly uncertain times.

How we spend our time isn’t a fixed formula; it’s influenced by context like how hungry we are, what mood we’re in, and what’s going on in the world. Knowing when - and how - to give yourself space is a skill that can be more beneficial to you than using distractions to fill in gaps of time between your commitments. 

At the moment, almost all of us are stuck in some version of socially responsible isolation, and while there’s no shortage of advice and recommendations on how to experience time alone, you are the one who knows what you need the best! Keeping contact with the ones who love us, staying grateful for the things we have, providing ourselves with forgiveness rather than judgment. You don’t have to busy yourself with projects or know the answer to every future question. Your celebration can just be to exist. This also isn’t something you can exclusively gain from meditation. Meditation can come in the form of exploring things that interest you, moving your body, or talking on the phone with a friend. Lean into some momentary seclusion and see how it feels. I promise you that with some practice, you won’t be disappointed. 

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Chloë Dennis

Cohort 14 Fellow

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