A Letter from Quarantine

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Julia Ebben
March 30, 2020
Lake Michigan Quarantine 2020

When I arrived stateside on the 17th of March and the airport’s medical screening went much faster than expected, I had a while to wait before my sister arrived to retrieve me. During the wait, I chatted with a dear friend via good old-fashioned phone call. She had returned home to Maryland from her study abroad program in Paris a few days previous to our call (after enduring an even more rapid and frenzied turn-around, pack-everything-up, & leave-the-city experience than I did). At the time of our conversation, we both found ourselves in a state of true melancholy. We were – and still are – mourning the loss of the remaining two months of study abroad. We both loved our cities, our host families, our experiences on the whole.

On the phone, we recounted to one another how we and our host families had cried in the days leading up to and at the times of our respective departures. She shared the sweetest, most heart-wrenching story about going on an errand during her last day in Paris to buy some quintessentially French compotes and the way in which that errand culminated in her and her host mom sobbing in the parked car together. We agreed that we find the present global situation to be anguishing, unsettling, and unfortunate. And we, in a way that I think is quite understandable, feel particularly powerless in the face of it all. We had the rug pulled out from under us, so to speak. And in the face of these drastically changed circumstances, we had no control over our own courses of action and wished that we didn’t have to follow the prescribed steps that were dictated to us. For me, as someone who habitually and independently organizes her own plans (oftentimes months or years in advance), this all felt scarily disorienting. But these are unprecedented times in which we’re living.

I found myself saying on the phone that, had I known ahead of time how my time abroad would arrive at such an abrupt and premature end, I probably would have been much less compelled to embark on the adventure in the first place. In almost the same breath, though, I also found myself adding that I’m glad I didn’t know. I realized that I’m profoundly grateful for the time I had on my IES Abroad program, even if I would have loved nothing more than for it to have lasted its full duration. And if it came down to it and I were able to choose between having none of the experience or getting to have two months of it that I did, I’d pick the latter. Those two short months have provided me with countless motivations to return to Madrid in the future (the primary of those being the friendships that I was fortunate enough to form in such a short space of time). I guess that’s all to say that, yes, I do feel that the present situation is incredibly unfortunate, and no, I am not where I’d personally like to be, but I wouldn’t go back and change any of it even if I could.

Over the past couple of weeks, as the situation has continued to increase in intensity and severity, I have thought about the fact that there are people that have it worse than I do. Sure, my experience changed in a way that was undeniably sad for me, and, sure, my sadness is very valid, but, at the same time, I was able to safely return to the states, I’m spending my quarantine wandering around a spacious house, I still have the privilege of going outside and working out, etc. I recognize that these are all immense privileges that not everyone has right now, and, in light of them and the fact that everyone’s lives and the world in general are topsy-turvy right now, I feel that accepting the situation is the only thing for me to do. Again, this doesn’t signify that I’m not sad. I am. (and that sadness resurfaced anew a few days ago when I got the official notification that the coveted internship I had lined up in Germany for the summer also won’t be happening). What I’m trying to articulate, though, is that I’m trying to accept the situation and not be upset about it. As I mentioned before, I feel powerless in regard to adjusting the happenings of the world. I cannot recover the rest of my study abroad experience or force the existence of the internship. However, something I do have control over is my attitude and my approach to making the best of this unspecified (but surely seemingly long) amount of time at home. Undoubtedly, I still have my schoolwork, but I’ve been brainstorming what other things I would enjoy doing with my newfound free time – hobbies I’d like to pick up, new knowledge I want to gain, etc. We’ll see where those musings lead me. If you had asked me at the beginning of the year (or just three weeks ago, even) where I’d be now & what the world would be looking like, I wouldn’t in a million years have been able to correctly surmise the answers. Although the present circumstances are particularly unusual, I think that this experience – among other things – has been a valuable lesson for me about best-laid plans and the wholly unpredictable nature of the future.

So, cheers to this present stint of staying at home and the hopefully grand, unpredictable future that will follow.

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Julia Ebben headshot

Julia Ebben

<p>Hi! I'm Julia, and I'm a junior at the University of Michigan, who is currently studying in Madrid! I am really happy to be working on my Spanish again after taking a few years off from the language to learn German. Outside of my language learning endeavors, I spend my time playing rugby and drinking copious tea with my friends.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor
Lake Orion, MI
International Studies
Political Science
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