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My year in review

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University of Massachusetts student Xenia posing and smiling in front of the Eiffel Tower

2019 was probably one of the hardest years of my life.  

The year started with my mom passing away after a five-year battle with cancer. As is the usual with illnesses, we’d known the hardest was on its way, but that didn’t make it any less devastating.

I had decided a few months before that I would do a semester abroad in Germany. The semester started in March, so that allowed me to stay at home for longer than usual. That was a blessing, because instead of having to hastily return to Amherst or having to ask for time away, I was able to grieve in my own time and gather my bearings for my semester abroad.

Being by myself in Germany wasn’t easy, especially going through what I was going through. Luckily, some of my closest friends and family members live in Berlin, so I had the best support system I could’ve asked for just a train ride away.

My experience in Germany was amazing. I got to go to Paris, which had always been a dream of mine; I got to go to Berlin and visit those closest to me; and, more, importantly, I got to learn how to live truly by myself.

But the entire experience was overshadowed by my grief. There were times when I didn’t know whether being happy that I was in Europe was the right thing to be feeling. But whenever that happened, I thought about my mom’s philosophy: a good attitude has the battle half-won. And so, I powered through those moments with the best attitude I could. It didn’t always work, but it made the experience so much richer. Semesters abroad are not all sunshine and flowers. They have bad moments too, but it’s ok, because learning to navigate those moments by ourselves is what makes us grow as human beings.

I had those lessons with me as I returned to the University of Massachusetts for the fall semester, but coming back still felt weird. Campus was basically the same, however, it somehow felt like a completely different place. It didn’t take long to see that UMass Amherst was still the same place it had always been, and it was me who had changed radically. Not only that, but my fall semester was going to be a little different. I moving off campus for the first time, and on top of that I was also getting ready to deal with a 19 credit academic load.

It may not seem like such a big deal, but it felt like a heavy load falling on top of everything I was already carrying around.  

Shortly after the semester started, I found out that my nanny, who had been like a second mom to me, was terminally ill. She passed away about two weeks before the semester ended. I was devastated, but I knew I had to keep going. Now I had two people upstairs I needed to make proud, so giving up was not really an option for me.

And I didn’t. Somehow, I finished the semester strongly and I made it to the end of the year. By the time December rolled around, I felt like 100 years older. I was like an action movie hero after a big battle; barely alive and exhausted, but victorious. And that going through 2019 was a huge personal victory.

Of course, I didn’t win the battles alone. I had support systems to help me through the tough times. UMass Amherst was a huge help. I joined a grief and loss support group on campus, and spoke to my counselor on a regular basis. Plus, my professors and bosses were very understanding if I didn’t make a deadline or if I needed extra time. Without that support, I don’t think I would’ve been able to pass any of my classes.

New Year’s was especially cathartic, because not only had one of the hardest years of my life ended, but one of the most exciting ones was about to begin. I went through a lot in 2019, but always with the promise that something better was coming my way.

Topic: 

Life at UMass
Study Abroad

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