In all honesty, I have put off writing this final blog post because doing so brings a finality to this whole experience. It takes away the slightest hope that perhaps we will receive notice that we can return back to Rome. Even though that may be far from the truth, this final post is a sendoff into reality…one that I do not fully believe I am ready to accept.
I must confess, that the words used in this post do not do justice to the true emotion of having our study abroad experience cancelled. These words are simply descriptors for future students to see how impactful an opportunity like studying abroad truly has on students and their lives.
Although our final post is supposed to be about what we have taken away and learnt from our time abroad, I do not feel like I had enough time to truly grasp on to my experience to have a suffice answer. So instead, this post will be a dedication to the moments and memories I do recall from my time.
The morning of my departure felt surreal. The combination of excitement and what felt like motion sickness did not dismay be from being as prepared as possible for the 4 months I was going to have abroad…away from normalcy, away from day-to-day routine, away from America. It felt like I had planned for a study abroad experience ever since I learned what college was, and without a second thought in my mind, I was more than ready to embark on this life changing experience. I had never truly had the opportunity to indulge my life into a new country for the amount of time I was signing up for. My goals were to find a new form of independence and become even more culturally rooted to the world around me.
A month into stepping foot in Rome, it already felt as if my new “temporary” home had become a sanctuary to me. I had a new routine, one that was different but fresh: Hot tea for the chilly mornings, 20-minute podcast on the up-hill walk to school, classes with both American and Italian professors, lunch at the cafés nearby, catch the bus back home, homecooked meal, homework and bed. It was hardly believable to think someone could adapt to an environment so quickly for the sole reason of loving the way life felt in it. I remember finding that long-lost feeling of belonging when people asked me for directions in Italian and I could answer back to them without much difficulty… it did not take me long to start calling the bright yellow apartment we lived in “home”.
Weekends were the best because they were our time to explore. We had 3 days (Friday- Sunday) to do absolutely anything: some traveled out of the country, some stayed and adventured into the nooks and crannies of the city. Having an apartment of 6 girls made the adventures all the more fun because we had familiar faces to go home to at the end of the night. However, the particular weekend of February 28th seemed like one of the worst.
“In light of this development, we have made the tough decision to cancel our ISA Spring 2020 programs in Italy. It is important that you immediately begin to make plans to return home.”
Rage, anger, fear, dismay. Questions of what to do, where to go, how to get there….questions of why me? It is a truly difficult task to express how everyone reacted to the major crisis that confronted us. Now, almost two months later, that momentary lapse feels like a blur in my mind because it happened so quickly. One second we were living life as we should…the next we were left to deal with a global pandemic. I think for many of us, we believed that nothing so drastic could happen to us. We believed we were cocooned from the rest of the world, but in fact, we were the ones being directly hit.
One may think that the morning after was metaphoric in some sense because I remember it being one of the sunniest days during our time abroad. The chirping birds and warming sun juxtaposed our feelings of defeat and distraught. Nonetheless, we sat in the garden near our school, embracing as much light as we could and mourning the end of our study abroad experience. While some may think our reactions to this situation were overexaggerated, only we knew how devastating it was to have worked so hard to make a dream come true, and be so sure that it would work out the way we planned…only to have something, much bigger than anyone and out of our control, take it all away from us.
A small group of us made an effort to wait-out our time as much as we could, traveling to the Netherlands, Belgium and London, trying to make the most of being abroad. But with new information being thrown at us every day, and a sense of panic in every place we went, we soon craved a sense of stability which inevitably confirmed our travels back home.
I often do not believe I actually had the chance to study abroad because now it is as if it were a dream. When I entered back into the United States, it saddened me to hold my tongue when people asked me where I was coming from. Like the mask I wore to protect my mouth and nose from contracting the virus as I walked through the empty airports, I also wore a separate mask that concealed the immense weight of emotions that circulated my mind. For me, the virus had taken away more than just contact with people…it had taken away opportunity, connection and a living dream.
I would not be truthful if I said that I was fully satisfied with the experiences I did have while I was abroad, because while I enjoyed every moment in Italy, my ambitiousness to do more still linger in my mind. I will however end this post with a better note. While I do feel that this virus took away from me more than I thought I could handle, it proved to me that I was capable of dealing with situations bigger than myself. It showed me the importance of fighting for what you want and also accepting defeat. It gave me closer bonds and life-long memories. I am human and while some have found peace of mind from this experience, I am still processing and healing day by day. Although the universe may have decided that now was the time to give the rest of the world a wakeup call, I strongly believe it will choose for me to return back to Rome one day. In the face of a global pandemic, I showed beyond doubt, that progress is possible if you make the active choice to move forward. Being grateful for the things you can control, such as your health and wellbeing, which many at this time are challenged with makes you realize how much you do have even when it’s hardest to see.