3 Ways International Students Can Spend a Pandemic Gap Year at Home

Manya Gupta from India was supposed to begin her studies this fall as an incoming freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, but the coronavirus pandemic upended her plans. So in June, for logistical, health and safety reasons, she decided to defer her admission and spend the coming academic year on a gap year.

“As of now, I’m interning for content development with a nonprofit that works primarily on rural education and microfinance for women, and I’m volunteering to help with curriculum development for another education nonprofit,” Gupta says. “Soon, I will enroll in Global Citizen Academy, an online leadership and social impact training program.”

Gupta isn’t alone in making the choice to defer admission to a U.S. university due to the extraordinary circumstances of the global pandemic. Some 286 U.S. institutions reported that 57,555 international students have accepted enrollment for fall 2020 so far, and 4,488 additional students have deferred to spring 2021 and beyond, according to a July survey by the Institute of International Education.

[Read: What to Know About Deferred College Admission.]

Closed U.S embassies and suspended visa and passport services are among the reasons international students have chosen the deferred admission option. The Department of Homeland Security also recently announced that new international students enrolled in institutions using entirely online learning this fall will not be allowed to enter the U.S.

“As most international students already realize, the U.S. government is making it difficult for international students to begin or continue their studies in the U.S.,” says Julia Rogers, founding director of EnRoute Consulting in Vermont, which offers gap year advising. “Students who are anxious about navigating the complicated issues around their student visa may choose to take a gap year this year.”

Students can reach out to their university’s international student services office for assistance regarding gap year opportunities and procedures. Here are a few ways international students can spend a gap year at home during the coronavirus pandemic:

— Virtual internships and projects

— Online tutoring and mentoring

— Language skill development

Virtual Internships and Projects

International students who choose to defer admission to a U.S. school can intern or complete projects with companies or organizations anywhere on the globe.

“Enrolling in a virtual internship program allows continued skill development, enhances their employability, gives sector-specific work experience, builds a global network of connections and improves their resume,” says Jillian Low, chief academic officer for London-based Virtual Internships, which has program staff living in 11 countries.

[Read: What a Gap Year Is and How it Prepares Students for College.]

Virtual Internships’ university program spans 18 different career fields, such as marketing; business; finance; computer science and IT; legal; engineering; and international development, NGO and charity. Virtual Internships works with host companies from more than 70 countries, and applicants can choose an internship duration of one, two or three months, and a commitment of 10, 20 or 30 hours of work per week.

Kaya Responsible Travel, based in Massachusetts, is another company that offers remote internship placement. “We are proposing that students start their fall semester by engaging in one of our virtual internships, with online placement in Thailand, Vietnam, Morocco, South Africa and Ecuador,” Heilwig Jones, the company’s founder and director, wrote in an email.

Kaya’s virtual internships involve working with the company’s community development and environmental projects and match the project to the skills and interests of the student.

“We anticipate travel will resume in the new year and then we are recommending students continue their program by travelling to the location where their virtual internship was based to experience the culture first hand and help carry out some of the work they contributed to online,” Jones says.

Online Tutoring and Mentoring

Another option for international students is to add online mentoring or tutoring to their gap year plans.

“I encourage students to look in their local area, see what needs there are in their hometown or city, perhaps volunteering with a local nonprofit, tutoring students from their former school,” says Katie Burns, a college admissions counselor at IvyWise, a New York-based education consulting firm, and former senior assistant director of admissions at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Seek opportunities to continue doing things you were passionate about as a high school student but without the schedule constraints of school — perhaps you can take that interest a step further,” Burns says.

These opportunities may be on a volunteer basis rather than paid, but can be priceless in the experience gained.

“We use video chat to connect youth affected by conflict with volunteers around the world for one-to-one tutoring. We provide training and expert support to all tutors so no matter their background or where they live, they can have a key role in our mission,” Gabrielle Wimer, managing director of Paper Airplanes, wrote in an email.

Wimer says the nonprofit organization accepts university students with proficiency in English as tutors in their language and Women in Tech programs and has just launched a Student Advising program where volunteers help students apply to universities and scholarship opportunities.

“Paper Airplanes gives its volunteers the experience of working remotely in the field while engaging in innovative international development efforts,” Wimer says.

Young Mentors, a branch of the World Family Children Foundation, focuses on providing free tutoring to low-income students in the U.S. by pairing them with volunteers who tutor via the videoconferencing platforms Zoom or Google Meet, says Srinjoy Chatterjee, director of Young Mentors Online. Some tutors are based in Nigeria, Nepal and Qatar, and the organization also helps tutors establish Young Mentors branches in their respective home countries, with a branch opening soon in Mexico, Chatterjee says.

Emily Lee, head director of Young Mentors, says the organization has learned through the pandemic that “regardless of where you are, you still have the power to make a difference.”

Language Skill Development

International students can spend their gap year learning a new language or improving their English using online tools like Babbel, Duolingo, Speaky and LingoGlobe.com, and can communicate with native language speakers over text, call or video chat.

[Read: How International Students Can Practice Speaking English.]

“Learning a new language is one of the most rewarding accomplishments anyone can experience. It’s like opening a door to an entire new universe of ideas, people, situations, countries,” says Sonia Gil, CEO and founder of Fluenz, a Miami-based company that offers language immersion programs.

The company’s digital program offers a curriculum that Gil says can take a learner from zero to conversational fluency in six languages: Spanish, French, Italian, Mandarin, German and Portuguese. Sessions have video tutorials and thousands of learning exercises.

For those who wish to learn Spanish, Fluenz also offers a comprehensive online immersion program with live tutors that starts with a track designed for each participant’s level, objectives and style of learning, with progress measured daily to adjust to ensure each learner achieves fluency.

Honing language skills is one goal South Korean national Hanmin Lee — who chose to defer admission as an incoming freshman to Stanford University in California — hopes to achieve during his gap year. Having lived outside of Korea since he was a child, he says he wants to use the time to reconnect with his mother culture.

“I want to take this next year refining my Korean language skills, exploring its history, spending time with relatives I haven’t seen in a while and overall learning about why being Korean is important to me,” Lee says.

So far, 2020 has been especially stressful and uncertain for international students, Rogers says, “but taking a gap year is also a way of taking control of the situation.” She says students should use this time to pursue activities that enhance their personal and professional growth.

“By the end of the year, I hope to feel like I understand myself better and to have explored my interests, future trajectory, relationships and hobbies in a manner that was fulfilling,” Gupta says.

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More from U.S. News

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3 Ways International Students Can Spend a Pandemic Gap Year at Home originally appeared on usnews.com

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