Shelter in place has been a little hard on everyone. Not getting to see friends and family has made people feel isolated from one another. The new standard has become zoom meetings and FaceTime hangouts. Being forced to come home from my abroad program left me feeling shocked and confused in the whirlwind that was my quick trip to Australia. It felt unfair, that this “invisible enemy” as it has been called, got to dictate my future and all that I had been looking forward to for years. I felt like so much of my time had been wasted. I had spent countless hours preparing to go abroad, getting everything in line, working and saving money. I was constantly bothering my advisor for both my program and my school nonstop, asking various questions and making sure I was taking the right courses.
I had just gotten settled into my new school (which was huge) and becoming acclimated with using all the public transportation in Australia. Another plus was that I could walk to the beach in under two minutes (a dream!) from my apartment. My professors were kind, and so were the people. I had already made friends and formed groups for projects in my classes. Although there is no language barrier that I had to overcome (besides different accents and some confusion here and there) being far away from home is something I think everyone needs at least some adjusting to, but it did not take too long for me.
Learning About COVID for the First Time
We heard about the spread of the virus. That Italy programs were being sent home. We felt terrible for our friends who had been studying there. Next, it was news from friends in Spain, their program had been canceled. Soon, a friend in London. It won’t happen here though, I told myself we were safe where we were.
In days it turned from everything is going to be okay, to programs worldwide were being recalled. I was so hurt. A few friends and I had taken a trip to Sydney for the weekend, and I sat outside our hostel and cried when I read the email. My mind raced. How could this manage to happen? What could I do to change the outcome of my situation? That was the thing, there wasn’t anything I could do. My friends were much calmer than I was at the time, and after a phone call with my mom and a friend from home, I started to feel a little better. Less than a week later and I was once again making the long trek across the world, this time headed for home.
Returning Home from Abroad
After returning home and the initial shock, most of the time I just felt angry. Angry that I was ripped away from my new home, frustrated with the question of why this had to happen to me. I felt guilty because I would snap at people that I care about. I wondered how people were able to come to terms with all of this.
As I chatted virtually with my new friends, it helped to know that I made great friends my time there who are going through the same struggles that I am. The bonds that I made in my short time are some that I know will last a long time. Talking to other students, such as my friends who had been in various other countries made me realize that we were all going through something together, and everyone processes at different rates.
Trying to transition to an outlook of positivity has not been a simple task. There are still times I find myself questioning, in all honesty, I think it’s tough not to. I don’t believe anyone thinks that we are going to be perfect at navigating this new journey. I learned that it’s okay to have days where I do feel emotional looking back on my trip because that short time does hold so many memories. I try to hold on to what our Uber driver told us on one of our last drives through Sydney. She felt bad for us, that we were not able to continue our time in her beautiful country but she did give us some advice. “It is a bummer that you have to leave this place, you want to be here. You have to tell yourself that everything happens for a reason, even knowing that you may never find out that reason.” This philosophy is in no way perfect, but it is something I can hold on to.
My family has been extremely supportive through this time, and the time that we spend together coming up with new activities to do has helped me a great deal. I have gotten into other hobbies, old and new to help me to pass the time. I have reconnected with my passion for art and food. I have been practicing my cooking skills and trying new recipes. I take my dogs on walks and learned new exercises to keep me active and engaged. It has helped shift my focus away from all the things I “should have” been doing, to all the things I can be doing now.
My friends from school have helped me as well. My close friends have kept in touch with me through it all, and the time difference being gone now makes it even easier for us to communicate. After much uncertainty, my roommates and I have even planned a living situation for the coming year, which makes me feel like things are finally starting to fall into place.
Looking Into the Future
I think one of the most important things that my taste of travel has shown me is an insight into my long-term goals. It is impossible to say when we might return to our new normal after we get through this, but for now, I can dream and tentatively plan. I have spent time researching my interests and investigating new places that I want to see. All this has led to me thinking harder about where life might take me once I finish my education, and how I want to spend more time traveling abroad. I am hoping to find a job that allows me to blend my curiosity for other cultures with my background and knowledge. For now, I am making the best of my situation and focusing on what lies ahead.
I think something that I would again point out is that everyone moves and heals at their own pace. You do not have to be in the same place as someone else. Set goals for yourself and do not forget about your dreams, even if you had to pause them for now. It’s okay to not be perfect in coping with all of this, try to find things to brighten your days. We are all navigating this together.
Ally Stemen is a University of Nevada, Reno student. She studied abroad in the Gold Coast, Australia in Fall 2020.