Sophia Kim-Brookes ’22 at Yellowstone National Park.
Courtesy Sophia Kim-Brookes ’22
This summer’s unusual circumstances robbed most Princeton students of exciting plans — internships in New York City, language courses in China, travel across Italy. But with significant free time, students still discovered opportunities for personal and professional growth, and even travel. Finding them just required a little creativity, and sometimes a little luck. 

With the emergence of COVID-19, gap-year student Wendi Yan ’22 had to scrap plans to finish the documentary film she’d been creating. Exceedingly bored, she took up any opportunity to use and develop her 3D-art skills. 

Coincidentally, after moving in with a friend in Asheville, North Carolina, she learned that the apartment complex happened to be home to an artists’ residency. After realizing that Yan was already creating, the landlord decided to make it official and have her take on a project. 

Yan’s virtual web film takes the viewer on a journey through the loneliness she has experienced during the pandemic, both as someone stuck working virtually and as a Chinese student with an uncertain future in the U.S. “This was probably the most personal art I’ve made in a long time,” Yan said. 

Now, with the summer drawing to a close, Yan has completed two internships, an architecture camp, animation for a music video, and of course, the art residency, and feels new clarity in her career path as a new-media artist. “There are some things that make me feel like this could not have been better,” she said.

For Sophia Kim-Brookes ’22, this summer provided learning opportunities through travel. With her internship in Hawaii canceled and gas prices significantly down, she embarked on a 6,800-mile, 18-day road trip to hike in eight national parks across the country. 

Packed into a colorful camper van, she set out in mid-June with her boyfriend, Noah Mihan ’19, his best friend, and her brother. They cooked, showered by pouring water from a cup, and used a compost-bucket toilet to avoid contact with other people — crucial given her brother's immunocompromised status. For Kim-Brookes, it was all worth it. 

She reveled in the opportunity to see and learn about nature. On one memorable occasion, the group looked across a huge valley in Yellowstone and saw a bear eating the carcass of a bison as a pack of wolves loitered nearby. “I was just like, ‘Wow this is crazy. I didn’t know I was going to see this in my life,’” she said. 

Kim-Brookes said she now wants to travel more, especially to nontraditional destinations. “I think there are so many things to appreciate in any place,” she said. “You’ve just got to look.” 

With an increase in the number of people bicycling during the pandemic, U.K. international student Thomas Dhome-Casanova ’23 and his two co-founders launched a Kickstarter campaign for a bicycling safety product, a light that changes color to get drivers’ attention when the cyclist brakes or when a driver gets too close. They created it in high school. 

Now residing in the U.S., far from his co-founders, Dhome-Casanova described the venture as a “reunion of friends.” Although the team was thrown curveballs and still has a long way to go, this summer turned out to be perfect timing. “The great thing about COVID is we could get loads of support from people and organizations who would usually be busy,” he said. 

Peter Colvin ’21 had what some may describe as a more “traditional” summer, having had two internships, one in-person and one remote. The activities he did in his free time tell a different story. 

A pianist by training, he decided to take up the guitar. (Playing the piano was not ideal during a pandemic given that they are often shared instruments.) He also tried new hobbies that were outside of his comfort zone: spelunking, bareback horse riding, and skydiving. 

Colvin admits his summer was not as he had planned, but he made the best of the situation. “It’s about learning to take what life gives you,” he said. “It’s what you make out of it.”