Hannah Rosenberg / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

An empty class has been transformed into a study space for students on Septemebr 22, 2020.

February 10, 2021

Students Forge New Paths With Novel Gap Year Experiences

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When Oscar Martinez ’23 found himself sitting in front of a Zoom screen after Cornell’s campus-wide shut down in spring 2020, he realized that online learning wasn’t for him. As a transfer student, Martinez wanted to make the most of his two remaining years at Cornell, and virtual learning didn’t offer the college experience he was looking for.

“I just wanted to dive into the community of people, to get to know them, to get to grow — because that’s what college is; that’s what college should be,” Martinez said.

Martinez set out to find internships that would give him practical experience in his government major and landed a position with the International Rescue Committee for the fall semester.

Working with refugees from Honduras and Yemen, Martinez found this internship to shape his perspective much more than his previous research.

“When you’re actually working with refugees, it’s completely different because then that experience is humanized, and you have more of a concrete understanding of what refugee policies actually amount to,” he said. 

Though he had initially planned to be back on campus for the spring semester, Martinez realized it wouldn’t be much different from the fall due to the slow vaccine rollout. He secured a position as a national security and international affairs intern at the Institute of World Politics, where he now organizes events and audits graduate level courses.

In addition to his job experience, Martinez also released his first EP, titled “Desiphra — Stone & Leaves,” complete with original guitar, drums and bass.

Meghna Shroff ’22 similarly decided to expand her gap semester into a gap year. Already on track to graduate early, Shroff, a fashion design major who enjoys hands-on classes, wanted to make the most of her bachelor’s degree.

“I realized that 2022 will be better, with more in-person classes, events on campus, meeting different people, Slope Day and spring break,” Shroff said.

Back home in Bangalore, Shroff has been building her fashion portfolio in preparation for summer internship applications. Recently, she’s designed and sewn a golden cocktail dress, a patchwork denim jacket, an upcycled denim corset belt and a denim dress with a unique waist cinch design.

Canaan Delgado ’22 is also at home, though closer to Ithaca at the University at Buffalo, where he is taking classes. He was partially inspired to take a gap year after his experience studying abroad in Spain before his freshmen year.

He’s using his extra time outside of class to develop a podcast addressing the intergenerational disconnect he sees in the world around him.

“I wanted to show people that the boomers, Gen X — we’re all people,” he said about his project. “We should all be able to work together and listen to each other, because we all have different experiences and perspectives on things.” 

While many students back in Ithaca or from their childhood homes continue their traditional education through a screen, gap-takers have opted out of hybrid learning to find alternative forms of education. 

“The culture is to grind through, get that internship junior year, get the return offer, and then go and start your life,” Martinez said. “A lot of people put up that facade.”

He stressed that through following his classmates’ and his own gap year journeys, he’s found that there’s no single road to graduation: “It’s such a subjective thing — everyone has their own path.”