As everyone else this semester, I was forced to end my exchange early and come home amid the Coronavirus Pandemic. Not only was this very disappointing and sad but it was also a very scary experience with how quickly everything escalated.
First, Italy shut its borders. At this point, the severity of the situation had not hit me yet. Sure, Italy was closed, but in my mind, that was just a bummer that I couldn’t visit. I had one Italian friend who was preaching about the dangers of the virus and its effects, but no one listened to her. No one thought it would get so bad.
The next thing that happened was the parades in Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day got canceled. The Louvre shut its doors and other things started to cancel. Now these two things were particularly important to me because I had two good friends from UA who were coming to Europe to visit me and we were supposed to go to Dublin and Paris. Still, these were just bummers, but I was too excited about seeing my friends to get too worried about it all. There were plenty of other things we could do in those cities, as far as I was concerned.
Now March 11th, just three days before my friends’ flights out of Atlanta to Europe, is where things started going further south. My first friend texted me all morning in a panic trying to decide if she could still take her trip. After that my second friend began to worry if he should still go. Past midnight my time in France, I cried as he tried to decide what the best decision was for him until we got word of Trump’s travel ban. That was decided.
Extremely upset and disappointed that what I was looking forward to the most was now canceled; I still did not see the severity of the situation. The next day, I got on a flight to Amsterdam with my friend from KEDGE. Now this is when things started to get scarier and much more stressful. Until then, I still thought I would be spending the rest of my semester in Bordeaux. Upon arriving in Amsterdam is when I got a flood of messages.
I started realizing that all the American students abroad were getting the hell out of Europe. I also started seeing messages in my international group chats of other Europeans leaving Bordeaux in a hurry to get back to their countries before they closed their borders. It was hard to fully enjoy my trip to Amsterdam. Museums were closed and the streets were unusually uncrowded. I had my one friend telling me that the situation was being blown out of proportion and I should just stay just like her to see how it all pans out. While other friends were texting me about when I was going to be coming home due to the severity of the pandemic. The only upside was that I did get to experience a very peaceful Amsterdam, one that tourists and even locals at any other time of the year under normal circumstances would never experience. Upon returning to Bordeaux, I was starting to realize that going home may be the best option. However, there were still others who were waiting for more information before deciding to stay or go.
Back in Bordeaux, surrounded by my new friends, people I was starting to become so close to, like a little international family, no one knew what to do. On Sunday March 15th, I went down to the river with them and it was like a movie. It was sunny and warm, and it seemed like everyone was outside enjoying it. If someone looked on us without knowing anything that was going on, he would think everything was just perfect. Meanwhile those of us who couldn’t decide whether to go home or stay agonized over what decision to make. After this day, a stay at home order was declared in France, and everyone who wanted to leave their homes were to carry papers explaining why they were outside. That is when I and everyone else it seemed decided it was time to get out.
Just like a movie, the next few days were rainy and glum. I went to see my friends for the very last time and there were few people hurrying to get to where they were going on empty streets. I spent Monday night with a friend, hoping to see him again the next day just to find out that his flight for Wednesday was canceled and his dad had booked him a flight that Tuesday morning. In tears, I said goodbye to him and then next dropped off my other closest friend at her apartment.
I went home to find my flight canceled and, in a panic, rescheduled to fly out the next day. I was lucky in that I was able to take my first flight with my closest friend from KEDGE to our connection, where I also miraculously was put on the same flight as my cousin back home to Atlanta and then Mobile.
She and I spent the next two weeks in quarantine, separated from our families and bored taking our classes online. I can’t say much about reverse culture shock. I was definitely jet lag, but other than that coming home wasn’t strange. But, also, the situation was different. I was relieved to be home but also extremely emotional.
It was a very stressful and sad situation to end on, but I wouldn’t give up the experience of going abroad for anything. If I got to do it all over with the exact same outcome, I would have gone again without hesitation. I’d do it for the expanded world view that I got out of living in a foreign country and the friendships that I made. Living in a foreign country does not compare to just visiting. Really immersing yourself into the culture and the place was such a growing experience for me. Also, I was able to make some really great friends that I still talk to today, and they were people who could educate me on things I knew little about and also open myself up to views I had never understood before. I recommend to everyone and anyone: if you have the opportunity to study abroad, do it. If you are scared, do it anyway. It was the best experience of my life.