The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Lessons Learned Study Abroad Edition: An Early Ending

paragliding!

3/6/2020

Well, this stinks.

Just under six weeks into my semester abroad in Florence, I’ve been called back home. UMass and most other universities suspended all European study abroad programs due to increasing coronavirus concerns.

When we first heard the news that the virus was getting bad in Italy, it was sort of shrugged off. Our Florence university gave us the option of voluntarily returning home, but no one wanted to let the fear of some mysterious, obscure sickness—which sounded a lot like the common cold or flu—stop our dreams. But before you know it, we were sitting together at the dinner table, forcing ourselves to focus on anything other than our itineraries to go home the following week. It happened all so suddenly.

There’s no one word to describe how I feel about this situation. It’s disappointing, sad, heartbreaking—the list goes on. I put so much time, effort, and consideration into studying abroad—what felt like endless paperwork, visa applications, overloading myself on credits last semester so I could enjoy my time abroad—it’s hard to not feel upset about it all. After months of hard work and dedication, I feel like I did everything right to set myself up for a perfect semester in Italy.

I know how lucky I am to have at least spent a month living in Europe—something a lot of people can’t say they’ve done.

**

3/20/2020

It’s now been about two weeks since I’ve been home, and the coronavirus outbreak has escalated a lot more than I ever anticipated. While my initial expectations of the virus were minimal, we’re now in the middle of a global pandemic that is spreading rapidly. I am now extremely relieved that I made it home safe and sound before the outbreak in Italy got worse, as the Italian death toll has risen to over 3,000.

This is an incredibly challenging time for everyone. Students all over the country have had their semesters cut short and some won’t be able to walk at graduation on time. Businesses and restaurants have been forced to close their doors all over the United States, greatly jeopardizing livelihoods and the economy. The healthcare system is pushing itself to the limit to care for the spread of COVID-19.

Reflecting on my abroad experience two weeks later, I am very grateful for the adventures I was able to jam into a shortened period. Nearly everyone has had to make some sort of sacrifice during this challenging situation, and while mine may have been a bit heartbreaking at the time, my sacrifice seems small compared to the gravity of the coronavirus outbreak. During this global crisis, we all need to band together in order to successfully get through it. By following the safety precautions outlined by health professionals and the CDC—and by socially distancing ourselves at home—we can hopefully beat this illness in due time. We need to do everything in our power to flatten the curve and lessen the toll that is being taken on our healthcare systems. There has been success in slowing the spread in South Korea and China by abiding by these guidelines.

During my time quarantining at home, I’ve been fondly looking back at the memories I made in Europe in just a month of time. Even though I only spent a short period of time there, I don’t think I’d want to spend my semester anywhere else or with any other group of people than the friends I made abroad who were so friendly, accepting, and loving. We traveled across many cities throughout Italy, I conquered some of my fears by skiing—for the first time in my life—on the Swiss Alps, and was fortunate enough to go paragliding over the beautiful city of Interlaken. Together we soaked in Vienna, Austria, including its vast history, museums, and wonderful art exhibits. Between my time spent in Italy and across Europe, I don’t think I wasted a moment of time.

I have absolutely zero regrets about choosing to go to Florence—a city of so much beauty that will always have a place in my heart. I think I soaked in as much as of the city as I could during my shortened semester, though there are a few landmarks I didn’t get a chance to visit. One of the smaller things I am grateful to have done before I left is rub the snout of the Il Porcellino, the bronze fountain of the boar located in Florence’s Mercato Nuovo leather market. Rubbing the boar’s snout and “feeding it” a coin is supposed to symbolize good luck and ensure a future return to Florence, which I totally intend on doing.

I think a part of the lesson learned here is that you can do everything right and just end up unlucky. I was very fortunate to spend six wonderful weeks abroad, so I guess it was only a matter of time before some of my luck ran out. While I wholeheartedly plan on returning to Europe someday, the best decision now is to trust and listen to those that lead us through these uncertain times so we can quell this pandemic before it gets much worse. If we follow the protocols, share our resources as a national and global community (toilet paper included), and self-isolate, we can defeat this uncertain illness with time.

 

skiing

View from skiing in the Swiss Alps

Lake Thun, Interlaken

Lake Thun in Interlaken, Switzerland

Schönbrunner Gardens in Vienna, Austria

Schönbrunner Gardens in Vienna, Austria

friends

My friends and I at the Piazza Michelangelo in Florence