Although I’m extremely disappointed that my semester abroad was cancelled after only six weeks, I’m very grateful for those few weeks I got to spend studying and living in Paris. In my time there, I had the opportunity to improve my French language skills while learning about French culture and making lots of new friends. I faced and overcame various new challenges and came out better off from it.
In Paris, I had to adjust to lots of new realities, but most were manageable due to my knowledge of the language and the fact that two of my roommates had both lived there before. Because of this, most everyday interactions and tasks were entirely manageable once I figured out the basic mechanics of how different things worked. Even in situations where things went wrong like when a metro ticket machine ate my money and when I missed my bus home, I could work things out by talking with the attendants.
The main two challenges that I faced were the strikes in Paris and the language barrier when traveling in other European countries like Italy. With the strikes in Paris, the metros lines were often delayed and certain areas of the city became dangerous to be in while certain strikes were occurring. It was hard to know where and when a strike was occurring because I had a harder time understanding the metro announcements while on the train. I dealt with the situation however by staying calm and collected and trying to pay attention to what the people around me were doing. Also, if I was ever out in public and I saw a large group of protestors in the distance, I did my best to avoid the scene. It can be dangerous to be trapped in a protest, especially when you can’t always understand what’s happening.
Other than the strikes, I had difficulty trying to interact with waiters and shopkeepers while on a weekend trip in Italy. During this trip I realized how fortunate I was to be able to get though everyday conversations easily in France because of my French. I learned how important it is to know a language before you try to live or travel there. Wherever possible, it’s super useful to try to learn as much of a language as possible before visiting.
Those were the two biggest challenges that I dealt with before coronavirus, but the coronavirus pandemic was by far the biggest problem I had to deal with while abroad. It became a big part of my life the second to last week of February when it began to become an issue in Italy. The last weekend of February I was supposed to travel to Rome, but I cancelled my plans and within the week, Pitt had called students in France, Germany, and Spain home. I was the first and only person in my apartment to be called home at the time. The week before I left was a stressful time as I had to pack up, buy a plane ticket, and prepare to leave the country all in the course of a few days while still working and taking classes. I remember being anxious and stressed out because none of my classes had online options and none of my classmates were being sent home. I had no idea if I would be able to finish my classes or if I would get credits, and no one knew what was happening or could give me a concrete answer on what was going to happen.
At the time that I was coming home, I was stressed and anxious, but I had to keep myself together and get home safely. During this period, I learned how to adapt to new situations quickly and efficiently in times of stress and anxiety. Although I was provided a little bit of support, I had to do most of the organizational work and communication on my own to ensure that I would be able to continue my courses. My study abroad program, CEA, didn’t have any other students in Paris being sent home and didn’t have any online options set up, but they helped me communicate with my host institution to create a personalized plan. I, in turn, had to reach out to Pitt to see if they were doing anything regarding the situation.
Now, I am continuing my courses online via Zoom and Moodle. Despite the odd class hours in the early morning due to the time difference, all my classes are manageable. When I look forward to the next few months, I can reflect on the few weeks where I had to come home and adjust to a new way of doing class before anyone else in my courses did. I have to accept that things will not always go as planned, and when they change last minute and I’m left without guidance, I have to be able to calmly and quickly adjust and then take things into my own hands to make sure things get done safely and efficiently.