Out of the pan into the fire: jumping into first year After a year away from normalcy, jumping into college life has been overwhelming in the best way. Words and photos by Isabel Kalb. Illustrations by Sophie Henry.

In July 2020, Yale announced its plan to bring first years to campus for only a few months due to the pandemic. The University also announced that during those few months, most of campus life would be virtual: no in-person classes, no open libraries or cafeterias, no club meetings, no a cappella and no to so many of the reasons I wanted to come to Yale. Despite feeling ready to begin college, following this announcement, I became one of around 300 former 2024s who chose to take a gap year.

Illustrations by Sophie Henry '23.

Although I was lucky to have an incredible year working, traveling, volunteering and more, I was definitely not prepared for the transition back to school. Gappers are experiencing so many transitions at once — returning to academics, germs, social lives and extracurriculars — while simultaneously adjusting to life in college for the first time.

Whether gappers were isolated at home with their parents, had a COVID-safe program experience, lived in a pod with friends or, like me, some combination of these, no one’s social life was exactly normal this past year. We were then plunged from our pods into the largest class in Yale College history. Scarcity of alone time and constant socialization, I’ve been told, are normal phenomena of first year life. But, for the COVID-19 gap year student, the added level of adjustment after 18 months makes the experience that much more intense.

Illustration by Sophie Henry '23.

And while it’s great that I can now say that I — a formerly stressed, stay-up-until-3- a.m.-doing-homework student — made it through a year without academic validation (and I was even happy!), the transition back to academic feedback (which at Yale is not always as validating as it was in high school) has definitely been an adjustment.

My immune system was also not prepared for the transition from a somewhat isolated environment to the true college experience. I can boast of being one of the first to be struck by what is affectionately known as the “Yale Plague”, a standard first-year experience now enhanced by the “it’s not COVID-19” mentality. We collectively seem to have decided that, as long as it’s not COVID-19, we’re fine getting each other sick. If you spend enough time around us first-years, I can all but guarantee an interaction involving an uncovered cough, followed by a comforting “don’t worry, it’s not COVID-19!” — an important fact, but one that does not justify coughing on friends.

Illustration by Sophie Henry '23.

All that being said, these grumpy observations are actually positives about my Yale first-year experience. I’m never alone because there’s always a club to attend, a new friend to make or a supportive professor’s office hours to go to. I’m so excited to be social that apparently no sickness but COVID-19 will restrain me from hugging my new friends. I’m back to chasing the thrill of academic validation — now thankfully aware there’s a world outside it. I’m having the first-year experience I wanted, and I appreciate it all the more after the wait.