Semester Out Of Order (Part 1)

Lessons from a semester off during a pandemic

Top+of+Rollins+Pass+on+the+Continental+Divide+of+the+Americas

Andrew Allsopp

Top of Rollins Pass on the Continental Divide of the Americas

 

Times have changed is a bit of an understatement as we all know. But having returned from a semester off in the Fall of 2021, I, as well as those who also took the semester off, have undergone some changes as to be expected from the bigger change our planet has been through.  Looking back, I feel as if the absence of school taught me many lessons about life unstructured and also a lot about myself and the psychological impacts of taking the path less traveled by. 

 

Taking fall 2020 off felt like I had abrupt early graduation. My traditional “Summer” ended with no familiar transition phase into school and was suddenly prolonged, which of course at the moment left me thrilled. I extended my employment at my summer job which primarily is being a camp counselor at Winona Camps for Boys, in Bridgton, Maine. I then transitioned to the role of maintenance and groundskeeper along with a couple of others who were in a similar limbo life state and intended to stay there as long as my gracious boss would allow me.

 

 It wasn’t until late August after UNE had started classes again that it really hit me that the next few months I had were entirely open. I knew the job would end sometime in September and it dawned on me that I had no plans, no classes, no job anywhere else, and I sat on a hefty check from my summer contract. Inevitably, post-season work ran dry in early-mid September, as I expected it to and I headed to the only other place I could, home, in New Jersey. 

 

Our campsite at the bottom of Rollins Pass

I did what any rational college student would do with a couple thousand in the bank, no plans, and no obligations ahead. I took an unadvised vacation. I boarded a plane to Denver, rented a car, and spent a week with my cousin driving through the Colorado Mountains.  We camped out in the Rocky Mountains and ate soup, almonds, granola, sausage, and chocolate for three days straight and hiked further than both our bodies could handle. I slept on the ground under the stars, got lost in the woods, and found a lake 9000 feet above sea level hidden in the mountains. I took a chunk out of my bank account for doing so, but was this the absolute best way to start my leave of absence? Without a doubt. 

 

Stepping off the plane back in Newark, the post-vacation reality smacked me in the face. I was home again, still in a pandemic, and without a job. Soon enough though,  I found a job working for a landscaping company, and then began apartment hunting for a place near UNE to prepare for the Spring semester. I quickly found out two very important lessons only weighed heavier on me as the semester went on. 

 

One; having a job that you enjoy really does make or break you. It was the first time in my life that I had entered, “the real world,” where I got up Monday through Friday and worked a job that paid the bills. I didn’t mind the work and was very grateful to have found a good-paying job for the situation I was in. I got to be outside using my hands in an active environment and I was thankful for that, but I wasn’t on the ladder I wanted to climb. It was a great placeholder to get me through this phase in my life, but it wasn’t what I had been working and studying for these past few years at college. It gave me so much more motivation to finish strong at UNE, to really strive for the kind of career I want, and that I was exceptionally grateful for my opportunity in higher education.

 

Two; finding housing can be a messy, stressful, expensive, and anxiety-inducing experience. It was my first time attempting to “move out” and be on my own in an apartment and I quickly realized the process is complicated and that I was very ignorant to it. I had to find an open place in the general area that fit my budget, room capacity, and distance to school, and finding a place that fits all your criteria is not easy. Then comes the communication with the landlord, checking the place out, understanding what utilities you are responsible for,  surgically reading the lease, all the while communicating with a roommate or roommates to make sure you’re on the exact same page as them.

 

 It was a lot to learn and my first two attempts at landing an apartment failed which was immensely frustrating because then that meant starting the process from square one again. Luckily, the third time was a charm as I’m currently writing this article in my apartment three months into my lease. While the experience sucked, I now feel way more confident going into my inevitable next housing experience and am grateful for the lessons the first one taught me. I will say, I’m also very grateful I have a very communicative and trustworthy roommate I was hunting with. Overall, it’s really a game of luck, an immense amount of patience, and making sure you don’t get screwed over. 

 

After I moved out of home and into my current place, I had finally arrived at the destination that I had been after and was thrilled. That thrill only lasted a few days though as I quickly realized that I actually had to pay rent, find a new job, and live on my own for the first time in my life. Thankfully, that transition came easier to me, as I settled into my new situation quite happily, found another landscaping job, and smoothly sailed till UNE started up in January.  I got to experience a glimpse of what life will be like after I graduate, and I’m grateful for that as I know I will feel more prepared for that chapter in my life when I reach it. Part 2 coming soon.