Despite being sent home halfway through my study abroad program, I am so grateful for the experiences that I was able to have while living in Florence, Italy. The six weeks that I spent abroad have certainly shaped me into the person I am now.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, there were very few things that worried me about studying abroad. I had waited so long for this experience that the anticipation and excitement outweighed any feelings of anxiety or fear. I will admit the biggest challenge I faced was adjusting to a completely new lifestyle and routine. Between studying for classes, travelling on the weekends, and trying to involve myself in daily Florentine culture, time management became a crucial skill. After the newness of living in Florence wore off, there were certain days where I was exhausted and just wanted to go to class, finish my assignments at home, and sleep. I was reluctant to do so, though, because I knew there was still so much, I had not seen or done yet in Florence. Of course, this attitude led to me becoming completely exhausted and I ended up getting sick because of it. I began to recognize there was an important balance between schoolwork, social life, and rest.
Fast forward to the last week of February, where I managed to squeeze in travelling to Budapest, Madrid, and Lisbon into the week of spring break. Throughout the week my friends and I heard that other universities in Florence were cancelling their programs because of the coronavirus outbreak in Milan. We thought they were being overhasty and that the virus would stay contained in the northern regions of Italy. It wasn’t until we were strolling down the sunny streets of Lisbon on our last day there that I realized how naïve I was for thinking the coronavirus not affect the future of my own program. In that moment we had received an email that Pitt students studying abroad in Italy were to fly home as soon as possible. Confused, upset, and worried, we hastily made plans to return to Florence immediately and then back to the United States.
I certainly admit that the first week of living at home after returning from Florence was extremely difficult, both personally and academically. A goal that I had worked very hard towards for years was taken away from me, and there was nothing I could do to fix it. I went from exploring new places every week to self-quarantining in my bedroom so that I could keep my family safe. My time management skills yet again became important, as I needed to stay focused while attending Zoom lectures and studying for my classes. Creating a daily routine was very important so that I could stay focused and not get distracted with how disappointed I was. As much as I wanted to control my situation and plan for the future, that became nearly impossible as America’s control over COVID-19 began to worsen.
After facing challenges related to the COVID-19 outbreak, I believe I have learned how to operate under uncertainty and adapt in challenging situations. After realizing how naïve I was, I now know to always expect that things can, and often will, go wrong. I learned to be resilient in these situations and be open to the changes that are to come. I remind myself often how lucky I am to be healthy and safe at home with my family. People are suffering and putting their own lives at risk to combat the corona virus. Businesses are suffering from the shut down and the entire world is trying to operate under this new way of life. Despite this, I trust that I, and the rest of the world, will get through this and become even stronger from it.