Sept. 4, 2020 | By Angelina Chen | Photo by Anil Jergens

Jay Luckey ’23 made a decision on the first day of school. They are leaving campus after taking two months of online classes and spending three months on campus this summer. They rushed to contact housing, the Advising Hub, and their academic advisor, and fled to Frankfurt, Germany, on the first Friday of Block 1.

Though Luckey’s decision to take a gap semester seems abrupt, it is not uncommon among returning students who have already experienced online classes in Blocks 7 and 8 last semester.

A currently unknown, but possibly large, number of students are taking the fall semester off. Amid the pandemic, Luckey’s determination arose from not only financial and personal reasons, but also mistrust and disappointment around the handling of the public health crisis in the U.S.

Even as the college adheres to policies and requirements of the El Paso County Public Health Department, staying on campus and even in the country did not seem like a favorable option for Luckey.

“The U.S. as a whole does not have a plan together in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic or any useful public health care infrastructure in the first place to address the spread of the coronavirus,” they said. “There is an inevitability that students will not follow those guidelines, and that can be very detrimental to the entire student body.”

Julieta Lechini ’22, an international student from Uruguay, echoed the feeling of insecurity and uncertainty at the prospect of coming back to CC. “I made the decision [not to come back to campus] honestly because it’s just crazy, at least how it looks from here, with the cases in the U.S. right now.” She is currently taking online classes from her home in Montevideo, Uruguay.

For international students who are already distressed by travel restrictions and visa compliance requirements, a gap semester at least guarantees a stable and somewhat satisfactory situation at home.

“Our realities nowadays are different. I feel like I have way more freedom that I wouldn’t have if I came back to the U.S.,” Lechini said.

For instance, Yu Li ’22 recalled feeling embarrassed in a summer film class when she showed a video shot at a crowded live house in Shanghai, China, where the vibrancy of nightlife has resumed.

Besides health concerns, another factor that deterred students from returning is the difficulty of staying engaged in a virtual environment. While an online format is conducive to learning for some, it is an impediment for others.

“It just felt like almost complete disengagement from my class material,” Luckey said, looking back on the last two blocks in the spring.

Li added another layer of concern as an international student stranded in her home country due to travel bans. “If I decided to take online classes while living in China, the time difference would be irritating for me,” she said.  

International students like Li who prefer in-person classes could attend a CC-partnered university in their home country. Nonetheless, this arrangement does not suffice Li’s major requirements since the program in Shanghai offers limited courses in humanities.

Lechini also found herself in a predicament out of financial considerations. “I tried and I realized that it’s gonna be more expensive to take the semester off than to stay enrolled.” 

The slowing economy in Uruguay further defied her intention to take a gap semester, as she has not found a job for over three months. “The economic crisis here is huge,” she said. “At least CC is giving $580 to students [from housing/meal plan refunds] who are taking the semester online which is, honestly, absurd – it’s not that much money.”

Lechini and Luckey are both on scholarships at CC, yet their financial situations led them to contrasting circumstances.

Since Luckey won’t have CC’s health insurance, they regarded going abroad as a more feasible alternative to save money in the long run. After self-isolation, they will try to get a job somewhere in Europe.

Li was fortunate to secure an internship for a stand-up comedy TV show in Shanghai. “It’s actually an opportunity for me to take some time completely away from CC and really think about what I want,” she said.  

These returning students’ decisions may foreshadow another wave of withdrawals from enrollment in the spring semester. The complexity of their experiences also further exposes the effects of the global economic slowdown, international relations, and domestic policies on all CC students’ lives.

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