What It Was Really Like to Study Abroad During a Pandemic

By Rebecca Goldfarb

Growing up, I felt so trapped socially. I went to school with the same 150 people since kindergarten and was always looked at as “quiet, shy, and boring” by high school classmates, no matter how much I tried to lose that image. Day after day, I felt like I was constantly living in a bubble. Being socially contained like this for 13 years urged my drive to get out of Orange, Ohio. While I was in high school, I went on two school trips to Europe. I made so many meaningful friendships on these trips with people from all over the place. These experiences were life changing and from those moments, I knew I wanted to study abroad for a whole semester in college, as the best experiences are the international ones. 

In college, I was finally able to shave my whole high school image off and create a new identity. Going to college in Boston certainly helped, and I was also able to build a solid foundation of so many different friend groups, that I left high school completely behind. I worked so hard for the past two and half years to become an extrovert, to build this social circle, and to finally live life and enjoy being young. 

Junior year was the year of the unexpected. Both semesters turned into something completely different than I thought it was going to be, especially my semester abroad. It has been a few weeks since getting sent back from the United Kingdom due to the coronavirus. Even now, it is still so complicated to process the idea of having been abroad during a pandemic; the time where no one is allowed to travel. Yet, I still did managed to travel all over Europe during the time COVID-19 was slowly emerging. 

I still was able to get a solid two months abroad while traveling all over Europe, even with this crisis on the rise. These were the few months I set aside to do significant traveling and a once-every-one hundred year pandemic just had to come about during the three months I had selected to embark on this adventure. That being said, there are both upsides and downsides for having been abroad during this pandemic, mostly downsides obviously, but let me explain the true overall impact coronavirus left on my study abroad experience. 

Being abroad during this crisis allowed me to understand the situation in multiple international perspectives, especially in the way various European businesses and governments were reacting to the crisis. Had I just been in the United States, I would have only stuck to the knowledge of what my home state and the state that I went to college in was doing. Being abroad during an international pandemic allowed me to really integrate myself in seeing how these countries dealt with an international crisis. Having been abroad in London, I now follow updates in the U.K. and all over Europe to see what they’re doing to handle all of this, even when I’m no longer there. I probably would not have done that otherwise. 

Overall, my knowledge and interest in international politics has increased immensely due to the fact that I was abroad during this pandemic. I got to be experiencing the action, and compare the way the citizens of both the United Kingdom and the United States took precautions. Even when my program got cancelled, I still had to embark on an international flight home. Traveling internationally itself during this pandemic allowed me to brave it out, which enhanced the intensity of my journey home, as I embraced myself for the six hour customs line at the United States border. 

I still had other international trips within Europe planned for the remainder of my abroad semester that I knew I couldn’t go on. The European airline companies canceled these booked flights due to COVID-19. This was not only a relief, as it guaranteed I could get my money back, but it also provided me more with an international perspective of this crisis. It is unbelievable that I traveled to Italy on the last possible weekend I could have done it, right before coronavirus exploded there. It all sucks right now, but years from now when we look back at this pandemic, I can talk about how I was studying abroad during this crisis, I took risks in international travel and got to be in multiple different countries and see their perspectives on the issue. I can share this cool and unique story to others about the pandemic that many people wonder about. If I had to find any benefit of being abroad during coronavirus, this is what I can pinpoint. 

I was in Italy from February 20-23, the last calm weekend in the country before the virus took over. 

Granted, I still got two months in England and got to travel to five other countries, for which I am extremely grateful. I still feel as though I got the full study abroad experience despite being sent home a month early. I am also grateful that I was able to get home in time before travel restrictions were made, that I could be home with my family during quarantine, and that they’re healthy. 

I’m so thankful for what I did get to do while I was abroad. I absolutely loved living in South Kensington. From seeing 7 shows on the West End to watching the BAFTAs red carpet across the street from where I have class, it already feels like I have been living here for months already. While traveling, I was able to meet so many new people from all over the world in the most unexpected circumstances. From being stuck in the Budapest airport for two extra days to a random person coming up to my friends and I at a pub, asking us to guess a riddle about expired yogurt, these random situations turned into the most memorable ones. I went from being scared of staying in a hostel, to absolutely loving it. I loved meeting people my age and learning about why they were travelling and where they were coming from. I’m so thankful that I was able to travel to these places and get these experiences before the CV situation got bad in Europe.

That being said, I hate the fact that I had to get sent home from abroad and that this crisis had to happen right now. I went from living my best life to living no life at all. I came about many frustrations during my quarantine because I looked back at how amazing these experiences were and I was craving more. I wanted more experiences like these in my upcoming trips. I wanted to travel to the other places I was supposed to go to, so I could meet more new people from all over the world and see more new places. The more I started thinking about what I could have done if there was no pandemic, the more I wanted the original full amount of abroad time I was anticipating. I think what bothers me the most is the feeling that the universe just wants me stuck and isolated in Ohio forever.

Being sent home and into social isolation, I feel as though I am back at square one. Back to feeling stuck and trapped like I was in high school. Except this time, if I try to get out and be social and live life and have fun, I risk getting myself and my family sick, which is the most messed up part about this whole situation. This isn’t just my early 20’s, this is OUR early 20’s. We’re supposed to be traveling, going out for drinks, going to concerts and clubs, and making crucial social connections and friends that are supposed to last a lifetime. We’re supposed to be getting critical, career defining internships. We’re being deprived of precious college moments, some of the best moments of our lives so far. We’re only in college for so long, so who knows when we will have the opportunity to have experiences like these again? 

Tea and Scones at Wimbledon Tennis Stadium 

Everyone in the world is being screwed over in some sort of way or from some type of experience, from unemployment to a high school prom. It sucks for everyone. However, the pandemic has shown us the various ways things can be made up for. Soon, we’ll be out of quarantine and we will be able to get back the experiences that coronavirus ripped away from us. I will get out of Ohio and I will get the chance to see the rest of the world. And that’s what’s getting me through, to know that I can get back and finish what I started. I now have a greater motivation to make this a reality. Who knows how motivated I would have been to go back to Europe immediately if I was able to get a full semester. The idea of my travels getting cancelled increases my itch to get back into the world as soon as possible (and also my hostel vouchers expire in a year, so I have to go back anyways). 

This pandemic has also taught me to take advantage of any opportunities that interest you while you can, because you never know when another obstacle will sneak up on you and stop you from being able to do something. Be grateful for every moment you get to experience. 

Soon enough, the world will be operational again. If we want to make this a reality, it is crucial that we continue to stay at home and do our part to get life back running, so we can go back to living our early 20’s sooner than we think. A couple months on pause won’t seem like a big deal in the long run.

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