Lately, I’ve been sorely tempted by the thought of taking a semester off. As a matter of fact, there was a point during spring break when I was on the verge of calling my parents and telling them that I couldn’t possibly make it until the end of this semester, and would they please book a flight so I could get the hell out of here right now, fast.
I couldn’t make that phone call because really, I had nothing to say. There was nothing wrong, nothing legitimately substantial underneath my springtime angst. I was getting tired of the stressful monotony, which bade ill for my work ethic; which bade ill for the benign academic mediocrity that I tried to maintain; which bade ill for my general happiness with life, which largely depended on my academic performance regardless I put in the effort or not. I pictured the phone call. My mother would be sitting on the couch on the other hemisphere, teeth clenched and listening to her daughter’s first world problems, restraining herself from turning her teacup into a projectile. You feel tired and down? I see. Really? That’s all?
This too shall pass, they say; and that too, passed. And here I am, musing about the road not taken, the road that in all likelihood will not be taken.
Was it my brother that had instilled such fancies? He too, at one point, felt a certain turbulence in his college career. He felt the trembling of the impending tide of decisions that would sweep him off his feet and lead him to a place that he feared he would despise. A certain animosity in his social surroundings further troubled him, and he felt drained of the drive that he perceived daily in the morning rush of the coffee-clad student body. A semester of respite was what he wanted to take, and take it he did. The first two months were spent with youthful vigor, working long hours and playing longer ones. The subsequent months, which I pieced together from a series of irate texts from my mother, were dedicated to reaching record-breaking levels in World of Warcraft, cracking at a college text or two, tasting for the best brand of fried chicken that South Korea had to offer and face- palming on his bed, worrying about life. In due time he returned to college, rosy and eager, cleansed of the devilish distractions that had plagued him so and filled instead with a sense of urgent purpose to finish what he had started.
It must have been wonderful, and he assures me that it was. I imagine it to have felt like how I would feel on days of playing hooky during senior year of high school, which soon came to an end on account of my mother’s creative exhaustion. There are, after all, only so many illnesses that a person can be afflicted with within a certain period of time without it all summing up to a terminal condition. But on those precious days off, I would look at the clock, and feel it tick for my classmates but not for myself. Each tick would mean one less minute of a double period of chemistry and one minute closer to the bell that would be their cue to shuttle onto Bartleby and his perplexing preferences. While they did just that, my time was free to spend however I pleased.
To those that began reading this piece expecting a persuasive stance on taking time off from college, I do apologize. The pros and cons list on the subject can be found on Google.
Pros and cons put aside, it is safe to say that there is a general suspicion to taking time off from college. Unless it is for a very good reason, such as taking a lucrative job, internship or a medical condition, it feels superfluous and lazy. There is the fear of the dissolution of friendships, of running behind everybody else. The nature of one’s monetary relationship to the university — that is, being indebted to it, is a further reason to not postpone graduation further. And then there’s the danger of the semester off becoming the catalyst to one’s adding to the statistic of college dropouts as opposed to being one to self- discovery and renewal.
I ran through all of these cons in my mind, over and over again. Suffice to say, I talked myself out of my angst, and stayed this spring. And will most likely be attending this fall. But still. Summer is dawning, and it’s that time of year where everyone’s sick and tired of work and ready to leave, yet still scrambling to finish well and find internships and planning exam preparations over the summer. This atmosphere of worn exhaustion seems to be good enough an excuse to wonder vapidly whether it would be the end of the world to take a semester off to do whatever.
Patricia Kim is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Better on Paper appears alternate Thursdays this semester.