Stanford students on leaves of absence explore non-academic interests

Feb. 27, 2022, 11:36 p.m.

“I didn’t want to end up going to campus and realize that the whole quarter would be online again,” E Ju Ro ’24 said, describing her decision to take a leave of absence this winter quarter.

After being on campus during the virtual 2020-21 academic year, Ro, an international student from Korea, said that she wanted to avoid any possibility of having to repeat the online experience.

For students like Ro, Stanford’s Dec. 16 announcement that the upcoming winter quarter would be virtual for two weeks felt all too familiar. Feelings of frustration with being confined to Zoom classes yet again spread throughout the campus community and were further amplified following the extension of most virtual instruction until Jan. 24. Faced with the possibility of another fully virtual winter quarter, many students, including Ro, opted to take a leave of absence. 

Around 250 undergraduate students are currently on leaves of absence, compared to about 110 to 140 in any given quarter prior to the pandemic, according to Dean of Advising Louis Newman. 

Students who decided to take a leave cited various reasons for doing so.

Katie Yoon ’23, another international student from Korea, said that, in addition to being frustrated over the price of plane tickets, she was also hesitant to return to campus because of University COVID-19 protocols that listed sleeping in “dorm lounges as an option” for non-infected students. These policies, which have since been updated, along with the rampant spread of the Omicron variant prompted her to take a leave. 

While some students who are on a leave entered winter quarter with skepticism, leaves of absence have given them the opportunity to take a break from their classes and focus on other priorities. 

Triana Hernandez ’24 wrote in a comment to The Daily that she was “feeling extremely burnt out from work and classes” and that the uncertainty of in-person instruction made her decision to take a leave much easier. With more time to focus on life outside of academics, Hernandez wrote that she is taking “time to focus on summer internship applications” while also resting and bonding with her friends and family. 

Ro also expressed appreciation for the time she has spent away from campus during her leave. “Since I am an international student, something I think about a lot is time that I am able to spend in my home country with my family,” she said. “I am glad that I was able to spend a quarter back home.”

Students have also seized opportunities that they would not have been able to pursue if they were enrolled for the winter quarter and are using this time to gain professional experience. 

As an intern at Devsisters, a game entertainment company based in Korea, this quarter, Ro said she has “met so many different people and experienced so many new things that I don’t think I would have experienced if I hadn’t taken a leave.” 

Yoon is currently interning at the same gaming company as Ro and said that she “played a role in convincing E Ju to take a leave as well” when she presented the internship opportunity to her. Yoon said that she has been able to work closely with the company’s CEO and learn firsthand how they manage a large company.

Yoon added that she has connected her Stanford education to her work experience. At Devisters, Yoon has frequently referenced skills she gained while taking COMM 166/266: “Virtual People,” leveraging ”the knowledge gained from [the] class to conduct research on emerging technologies and the gaming industry with regards to natural language chatting, NFTs and the metaverse.”

Jasmine Nguyen ’23 is also using her time away to explore her career interests in business development, working as a business and strategy consultant for Detect, a biotech company that produces rapid PCR COVID-19 tests. The flexibility of a leave has also given her the opportunity to simultaneously work for the nonprofit organization she founded, Diversify Our Narrative, which is devoted to promoting racial justice through education reform.

When it comes to returning to campus in the spring, the students’ feelings vary.

Yoon said she still holds reservations because she does not feel that students on campus “take the COVID mandates as seriously” as they should, referring to unmasked campus parties. On the other hand, Hernandez wrote that she “will feel more motivated for classes in the spring” following her leave and that she “can’t wait to go back” to campus. 

Despite the distinct paths that students have followed throughout their leaves and their plans for the future, they agreed that they have no regrets about their decision to take time away from Stanford. 

“I get asked this a lot by my friends, especially since in-person learning resumed as normal,” Hernandez wrote. “But honestly… I have no regrets. I haven’t felt this rested in a long time.”

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