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Students explore passions, gain work experience, form bonds in COVID-19 during leaves of absence

Students describe time off from college as positive, helpful in career trajectories

As the majority of the student body logs onto Zoom class each day, others are blazing their own trails during the pandemic. The Herald spoke to five students currently on leaves of absence about their experiences.

Many students have decided to use their leaves to find internships, go abroad, widen their intellectual horizons or spend more time with their families.

Dorrit Corwin ’24 never expected to take a gap year in the midst of her college education. While originally optimistic about returning to Brown for her sophomore year, Corwin soon began to realize that a fall semester in Providence would not look like anything in years past.

Rather than enroll in online courses, she decided to focus her time on a range of pursuits.

For the fall, she moved in with her grandparents and completed a remote internship with a production company in Los Angeles, where she reviewed novels and scripts for production consideration. An aspiring writer, Corwin said she gained useful insight into the industry and what it means to be a writer professionally.

“Being on leave has given me such an interesting perspective because I’ve kind of been on this hamster wheel of education since elementary school,” Corwin said. “I’ve never stepped off to think about what I’m actually learning and what I want to do.”

In preparation for the holidays, she worked at a Christmas tree lot in Los Angeles, “a gimmicky dream job” of hers since middle school but one she never had the chance to pursue previously.

After her stint selling Christmas trees, Corwin moved to Colombia and worked at a mango farm two hours outside of Bogotá.

Ultimately, Corwin was grateful for the University’s leniency toward gap year students and is more excited than ever to return to classes.

“When I get back, I just know that I’m going to be so determined to leave nothing uncovered and dip my toe into every single thing I might be interested in,” she said.

Some students have opted to spend their year off from Brown in groups. Sabrina Chwalek ’24, Maggie Baker ’24 and Jack DiGiovanni ’24 have been living together in Sun Valley, Idaho during their gap years.

Despite not being close friends before the pandemic, when Chwalek, Baker and DiGiovanni all found out they were taking time off from school, they saw a unique opportunity to take advantage of the moment.

The three would-be sophomores  spent a month hiking in Colorado and exploring nature as part of their leave, “something (they) would have otherwise never been able to do during (their) college experience,” Chwalek said.

The time together strengthened their friendship, according to Chwaleck. “Now (Baker and Giovanni are) two of my closest friends at Brown,” she said. “Being on this gap semester let me grow closer to them in a lot of ways, which I’m really thankful for.”

DiGiovanni said that the time off, spent with Chwalek and Baker, was an unexpected silver lining of the pandemic. “We’re super lucky to even be able to have this opportunity to do something that isn’t the norm,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Aaron Gruen ’23 is living with another Brown student on leave, and has worked to immerse himself in the world of music at the Prague Music Conservatory.

A premed student with a strong interest in playing the cello, Gruen was conflicted after high school about going to Brown or attending a music school. The opportunity in Prague was “the best outcome that (he) could have wished for.”

Because of COVID-19, the Conservatory had essentially closed its doors to many of its Czeck students, leaving most of the buildings to the few international students at the Conservatory. “There are only about 10 of us,” Gruen said.

In between his time at the Conservatory, Gruen worked in an intensive care unit in Munich, where he is originally from.

Gruen’s time at the ICU was “a bit overwhelming” and “high pressure,” but “reinforced (his) interest in medicine and science.” In his free time, Gruen has studied for the MCAT, which he hopes to take in the summer, and kept in touch with Brown activities and advisors, even attending University events over Zoom. He also still participates in the running club, which has stayed connected through an app called Strava, which shares running performance and workouts.

Gruen says that regular video chats with friends at Brown have reminded him how much he cares about his friends on College Hill and he looks forward to seeing them again when he returns to campus.

Each student interviewed by The Herald said they made the right decision in taking leave as a result of the pandemic. 

“It was the best decision I’ve made,” Gruen said.


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