If someone would’ve told me before I left that I’d be in Europe at the time of a global virus outbreak, I wouldn’t have believed them. Yet here I am, studying abroad in Spain when it is in the top five countries in the world for amount of cases of the new coronavirus. I’m not going to lie—it’s stressful. Even though there are only three cases, all contained, in my city, I cannot escape from the constant presence of the fact that things could get worse. News stories about the virus run for what seems like all day, and emails pour in from my university, IES Abroad, and the US consulate, bearing the latest updates and warnings. And I’m scared. Not so much because I’m worried about getting the virus, but because I don’t want my time here in Salamanca to be cut short. With study abroad programs already canceled in China, South Korea, and Italy, uncertainty looms overhead in regard to the future of my program and my time in Spain. Not to be negative, but I feel helpless: no matter what I do, I cannot change whether or not my program will be canceled. I don’t want to be, but at the back of my mind I'm constantly worried. It’s hard to ignore something that has the potential to make such a big impact. I’m in love with Salamanca, with Spain, and I want to stay here as long as I can. The threat of having to go home early is something I never thought about when I was preparing to go abroad, and it’s almost surreal to think about. In all the seminars, online modules, and predeparture information given to us, nobody ever explained how to cope if a new and dangerous virus took hold while abroad—and why would they? The whole situation is bizarre and unlikely, but it’s my reality.
It’s easy to let the constant bombardment of information create a panic. However, during this time that is stressful for me and many others, there is a bright spot: the threat of having to leave what I have come to know and love here sooner than anticipated has given me a renewed appreciation for what I take for granted. Every day, I am more and more grateful for what I see around me, for the things I didn’t realize I’d miss. The beautiful buildings I pass on my way to class, the friends I have made and the conversations we have, the cobblestone roads, the Plaza Mayor, my host mom’s homemade meals, the church bells ringing every hour, even the chaos of the sidewalks makes me smile. The inescapable presence of news of the virus may be stressful, but it reminds me to cherish what I love while I still have it. People are worried here (my roommate and I tried 5 stores before finding a parafarmacia that wasn't sold out of hand sanitizer), but there is no panic. If I let go of my worries about what I cannot control, it is easy to pretend that nothing is out of the ordinary—and truly, here, it isn’t. The sun is shining on this cloudless day and people leisurely stroll through the streets, chatting to friends and family. Parents walk their kids home from school, elderly ladies in parkas walk their dogs (dogs that, many times, sport a jacket of their own). A soft breeze rustles the trees, carrying with it the faint scent of flowers. I am in love with this city and with this country. I will take advantage of every opportunity that I can, more aware than ever that I eventually will have to go home, virus or not. I remind myself to breathe. Everything is going to be ok. I may not know what my future holds, but there is nothing I can do. So I try not to worry. For now, I just have to take things one day at a time.
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<p>Hi, my name is Haley and I'm super excited to be studying in Spain this semester! I've been speaking Spanish since kindergarten, but this is one of the first times I will get to test how good I really am at communicating in a different language... wish me luck! I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis and have only left the US once, so I can only imagine what new and exciting experiences I will have during my time in Salamanca.</p>