Students Navigate the Impact of COVID-19 on Their Study Abroad Programs

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IES Abroad

Well, this certainly wasn’t the semester that any of us imagined.

We’ve all heard that studying abroad is a life-changing experience. Yes, it’s easy to joke about the ubiquitous nature of this sentiment, and many of us have (probably) rolled our eyes at the expectations that accompany this kind of broad generalization. When we reflect beyond the catch-all nature of this idea, we can understand its meaning better.

Study abroad is life-changing in the way that it stretches us to limits that we never knew we had. Whether it’s a cultural experience that changes how we view our own habits, a language breakthrough that opens up new communication possibilities, or a disappointing circumstance that lingers on the memory long after the initial feelings fade, the truth remains that studying abroad changes us.

None of us could expect to be changed this much.

In the weeks since the COVID-19 news, our Correspondents have reckoned with their ever-changing circumstances with such thoughtfulness, authenticity, and vulnerability. Reflection, creative expression, and analysis are a privilege even when life feels somewhat normal, let alone when we’re watching a global pandemic unfold in real time. In this time of increased uncertainty, these students have already shown an incredible level of leadership by sharing their thoughts and feelings with the world.

Please read the following excerpts from posts our Correspondents have shared, and join all of us at IES Abroad as we move forward, together, and eagerly await a time when all of us can travel and explore the world again. 

From Our Student Correspondents

"The first month was a blur of getting lost, logistics like setting up a bank account, making friends and getting used to the weather. But now I am finally at the point where this is my ‘life’ and I am comfortable. But I have to say goodbye. I can be sad, and I can whine, but I have done that enough in the past few hours already. So I want to take a moment to share are a few things that make up my daily life in Amsterdam and that I will always hold dear in my heart."

From Love in the everyday by Sumini Siyambalapitiya (IES Abroad Amsterdam | Lafayette College)

"I am doing my best to view and appreciate this situation as a growth opportunity - a chance to become more flexible, an opportunity to better embrace the unknown, a time to be humbled by my own privilege and the amazing experiences it has allowed me to have. Even though my heart is oh so heavy and there are moments when I have the sensation that the world is ending, I recognize that it is not. I simultaneously recognize that my emotions are valid and that it is fully acceptable and right for me to be heart-broken."

From The Tears Come Easily These Days by Julia Ebben (IES Abroad Madrid | University of Michigan-Ann Arbor)

"As a backdrop to everything I’ve written about so far, of course, we were aware of the developments in this situation and were monitoring them closely. Yet for the longest time, as will now become a commonplace anecdote, we figured the crisis would stay far away from us and our adventures. It was only over the past week or so that the magnitude of the crisis became apparent, and things devolved frantically after that."

From How It All Went Wrong, Part 1 by Brendan Murtha (IES Abroad Galápagos Islands | Bowdoin College)

"Though I’m sad to have left a few weeks early, I’m super grateful for the experiences I had, the people I met, and the memories that I will remember forever. Also, super honored to have shared this experience with 7 other incredible black Howard women."

Alexia Green (IES Abroad Nice | Howard University)

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"The best four months were cut short, but I am so thankful to have had this experience. Barcelona, fuiste un sueño."

Sarah Nolan (IES Abroad Barcelona | Connecticut College)

"Today, my friends and I walked to the IES Abroad Center one last time and were able to say goodbye to a few of the instructors that changed our lives. We went to two bookstores and ate huge slices of chocolate cake at a cafe we've been wanting to try and got caught in the rain because it wouldn't be Dublin if we didn't end up drenched."

From It's Not You, But It's Also Not Me: A Breakup Note with the Utmost Love by April Bannister (IES Abroad Dublin | University of Iowa)

"A group of eight of us, the final stragglers leftover from the Writer’s Program, had dinner together, trying to reflect not on what we had missed but instead what we could do with our final remaining hours. For me, this meant a final trip to Gino’s Gelato and a final glance at Christ Church, which I still stare at with the same awe and wonder as the first time I saw it, the moment when I first knew I made the right decision in coming to Ireland."

From A Farewell to Ireland by Morgan Brown (IES Abroad Dublin | Hope College)

"I’m trying to think of this as an opportunity. It’s my last semester of my undergraduate career and now I will have been able to spend it both in France and at home."

Belinda Huang (IES Abroad Paris | University of St. Thomas)

See More on Belinda's Instagram

"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."

From Love in the Time of Coronavirus by Haley Lundeen (IES Abroad Salamanca | University of Minnesota)

"It is painful that we are now physically separated, much sooner than planned because of the coronavirus. There is no one person to blame for this crisis, yet we still feel anger and disappointment. But like I wrote in my last post, nothing goes as planned, and this is an extraordinary example of that."

From Friendships + Social Distancing by Vienna Vance (IES Abroad London | Pomona College)

"Thank you London for introducing me to beautiful people and beautiful places. I can't believe this experience ended so soon but I am extremely grateful for everything it brought me."

Veronica Wetzel (IES Abroad London | Seton Hall University) 

"Sad that my time in Granada was cut so short, but so happy to have been able to meet so amazing people and have so many amazing experiences while having the chance to study abroad."

Callie Bopes (IES Abroad Granada | University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

"As I say 'Auf Wiedersehen' to the city, I remember the wonderful parts of my short trip: the peaceful walks through city park, the super sweaty standing-room tickets, the delicious coffee and pastries from Aida and the many good lessons I had with my Horn teacher."

From Bis Später Vienna by Bridget Gervais (IES Abroad Vienna | Drake University)

"Sadness and anger from loss demand to be felt and ought to be acknowledged; however, their time must be limited. I do think sustained anger is productive when it is the product of injustice, but I was subjected to an unfortunate circumstance, not injustice."

From Rejecting the Rhetoric of Loss by Madeira Thayer (IES Abroad Madrid | Tufts University)

"Never in my wildest dreams did I picture myself evacuating my study abroad program due to a pandemic, and I have to be honest, it totally sucks. I am so lucky that I got 6 weeks in this beautiful city and country."

Celia Myers (IES Abroad Sydney | Texas Christian University)

"How lucky am I, that in only two months, I can say that I’ve made friends for life? Our friendships, our relationships, would change, but I knew I wasn’t leaving all of my relationships behind in Ecuador. As Gabi, one of our professors might say, we are all entrelazados. Tied together, part of each other." 

From A Light in the Fog by Madi Kelly (IES Abroad Quito | University of Vermont)

"In the midst of the anger, sadness, and denial there was also a part of me that was undeniably grateful. Grateful to have a family that cared enough about my well-being to get me home safely. Grateful that they had the capability to have a team of 5 people working to find me a flight. Grateful that I was able to experience the ignorant bliss of a last day while they worked to find me a way home. In that sense, I am incredibly lucky and happy. The mixture of emotions that bombarded me in that moment are incomparable to any other moment of my life."

From Het Laatste Rit: My Final Hours in Amsterdam (Part 2) by Hannah McGrew (IES Abroad Amsterdam | Cornell University) 

"Obviously health and safety are more important, but that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to the place you wanted to call home for a little while."

From Chillin' In the Virus's Shadow by Ang Vaiana (IES Abroad Auckland | Hope College)

"Because I left Italy with the intention of returning after my weekend trip, I never got the chance to say bye to some of my friends and to the city. I didn’t have a last day to see some of my favorite spots in the city one last time or sit at a cafe drinking one final cappuccino. As much as I would have liked to do so, I guess that just means I’ll have to go back to Italy sometime soon."

Dominick Cura (IES Abroad Rome | Ithaca College)

See More on Dominick's Instagram

"These 2 months have been unbelievable. I have so much love for this city and all of the amazing people who made this experience so special."

Shayna Morgan (IES Abroad Amsterdam | Cornell University)

"The situation is unfair, and my feelings of simultaneous bitterness and numbness are feelings I’m sure will be sticking with me for a while. However, none of us are alone in our experiences and relations with this virus, meaning the only thing to be done is to try our best to connect to and be respectful of one another, placing health and recovery over all else and simply trying to move forward."

From Yet Another Discussion On the Impacts of COVID-19 by Jeanne Torp (IES Abroad Paris | University of Mississippi)

Featured photo by Madeline Hinkley (IES Abroad Madrid | University of Michigan). 

Please visit our Health and Safety pages for more information about COVID-19.

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