Courtesy of Sidney Velasquez

As hundreds of Yale students chose to take gap years in light of the pandemic and online learning, some students decided to travel abroad during their time away from Yale.

In interviews with the News, three students talked about their experiences abroad in Europe. Students decided to go abroad for various reasons, including health concerns and the desire to learn new languages. Overall, students still felt a strong connection to the Yale community by involving themselves with extracurricular activities and internship opportunities. 

“I wanted to treat my gap year like my first year part two,” Sidney Velasquez ’24 said. “I feel pretty grateful that I get to have this restart to my extracurriculars by having this gap year because I get extra time to find out what interests me.”

Velasquez has been in Seville for two weeks working as an au pair, a person who travels abroad to live and work with a host family. Although she is far from Yale’s campus, Velasquez has maintained her relationship with the University through her involvement in the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project.

She told the News she plans to stay in Seville until spring of next year, though she hopes to be able to visit the United States for the holidays. Velasquez told the News that if visa restrictions prohibit her from returning to Europe after visiting the United States, she plans to stay in Spain for the holidays instead.

Velasquez told the News that her experience in Spain has been fun and has allowed her to experience the intersection of cultures. Velasquez celebrated Halloween with her host family, whose children dressed up and enjoyed an event at a local park. She said that her host family is planning to give her a “little piece of home” with a Thanksgiving-themed dinner and has been discussing the recent American presidential election. 

Gianna Griffin ’24 is another student working as an au pair, but she is in Paris. One of the reasons she decided to travel abroad for her gap year was the desire to learn a new language.

Griffin described her experience working as an au pair as enjoyable. However, she also noted the difficulties that come with being so far away from the Yale community. Griffin told the News that her involvement in student publications like the Yale Review of International Studies has been difficult, since she is unable to attend weekly meetings due to the time difference.

Like Velasquez, Griffin also noted moments when she engaged with American news, such as the recent presidential election.

“[My host family] didn’t really understand, like ‘Why is this girl not going to sleep tonight? She should be getting her rest,’ and I’m like ‘no, I really need to watch what the state of Georgia is doing right now,’” Griffin told the News. “It’s nice to see the French president saying congratulations to Joe Biden, and we’re excited to see what this might mean for America.”

Prior to arriving in their respective destinations, both Griffin and Velasquez were required to quarantine in London for two weeks.

Americans working in Europe as an au pair can receive a “long stay” visa or “working holiday” visa in France and Spain, respectively, if they plan to stay for longer than 90 days. However, in light of rising COVID-19 cases in the United States, countries like France closed their borders to nonessential travelers in March.

On Oct. 30, France announced a countrywide lockdown. Griffin, who is planning to stay for the next month, told the News that since she works in her host family’s house, she has not noticed much of a change in her daily routine. One difference she did note, however, was her inability to explore the country.

With the winter flu season approaching, the United States has seen an uptick in COVID-19 confirmed cases, according to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Dashboard. On Nov. 9, the WHO reported that France had more than 1,752,980 confirmed cases. The United States is reported to have more than 9,763,730.

“One of the big reasons why I left [the United States] was also health,” Jordi Bertrán Ramírez ’24 told the News in an interview. “It’s definitely been a wake-up call, I think, for me … and I think it’s given me a lot more clarity on not only what I want but who I want to be and what I want to fight for when I get back home.”

Bertrán Ramírez left in October for Paris and said that the differences he has noticed in how the pandemic is being handled abroad have influenced his advocacy interests for when he returns home. He said that he felt there was “more awareness” of the pandemic as a “communal danger” instead of an “individual threat” and noted the presence of specialty COVID-19 phone applications and other precautions in France that he did not see as much of in the United States.

Bertrán Ramírez plans to stay in Paris for the remainder of the academic year. He is currently working remotely as a research assistant with the Yale public health modeling unit. Like Velasquez and Griffin, he has also remained engaged with campus life through virtual extracurricular activities, such as the Yale Dramat and Yale College Council. Currently, Bertrán Ramírez is working remotely on theater projects in Paris and hopes to work in person once the French lockdown is lifted.

The three students all expressed positive feelings toward their experience living abroad, in spite of the pandemic.

For instance, Velasquez said that she was “really happy” to be in Spain and described Seville as “beautiful.” Meanwhile, Griffin described the sightseeing she was able to do prior to the lockdown as a wonderful experience and Bertrán Ramírez described his apartment in France as a “slice of home in Paris.”

In 2012, reported that 7.8 percent of their registered au pairs came from North America.

Zaporah Price |

Correction, Nov. 10: This article read “Bertrán Ramírez left in October for Paris with his dad — a Spanish national — and said that the differences he has noticed in how the pandemic is being handled abroad have influenced his advocacy interests for when he returns home.” It has now been updated to clarify that Bertán Ramirez is in Paris alone.

Correction, Nov. 10: A previous version of this article stated that Americans working in Europe as an au pair can receive a J-1 visa, which is not the case — they can instead receive “long stay” or “working holiday” visas. The article has been updated to reflect this change.