Reflecting on One Year of the Pandemic

Feb. 23, 2020: There I was, sitting in an Uber rushing to the Prague airport, head still ringing from the night before and my stomach full from copious amounts of chimney cakes. CNN breaking news reported over 200 cases of the novel coronavirus detected in Italy over the weekend, in my home across the ocean. In an instant, it was as though the lightless bliss of wanderlust travel blew away, replaced with a heavy brick of anxiety, uncertainty and fear. I will always remember the events of that day, the day where COVID-19 became a reality to students studying in Europe while seeping into the U.S. Of course, the virus had already impacted many communities in Asia by the time it reached Europe. Still, it seemed like a distant distraction that could not possibly touch or entirely disrupt the perfect semester abroad I had envisioned for myself. Within 24 hours of arriving back in Florence, cases doubled across the country and my program became the first American institution in Europe to go online, giving us a matter of days to pack up and leave Italy. It was a shocking experience, mixing a variety of emotions that no one could fully grapple with within the short time that drastic decisions occurred. An entire year later, and many of us are still entrenched in the lifestyle of Zoom University.  

Looking back to that span of days, my naiveté makes me laugh, albeit with a dark sense of humor. One appeal of studying abroad, I have realized, is the opportunity to forgo external worries and responsibilities to focus only on you as a student and person. It is a freeing sensation that allows you to grow and learn in an atmosphere unlike anything else. There is also this hopeful sensation that you can somehow take on the world, you and your Ryanair friendly carry-on schlepping around Europe. Those senses of freedom (an immense privilege) disappeared in a moment, and I have a difficult time comprehending that my abroad experience was only a year ago. At the same time, it seems as though it was yesterday that I found myself sitting in that Czech Uber. For me, so much has happened in a year, and so much has not happened. 

For college students, there is no doubt that this year has been challenging. The ongoing pandemic is exhausting and taxing. COVID-19 pressed the pause button on our ever-invigorating young-adult lives. There have been times where I have felt very lost, unsure of what to do and how to comprehend the immensity of the now-year-long tragedy we find ourselves living through. I have also had moments of deep gratitude and reflection, finding small and larger positives to the situation we find ourselves in, such as the bond with my family and friends, the time to spend focusing on myself and perfecting my pie-making skills. Recently, I have wondered who I would be if this past year went as planned. No doubt I would not be as resourceful or mindful as I am now, not understanding the real importance of not taking everything for granted. This upcoming week will bring back an interesting mix of memories from the last glorious day of my pre-pandemic world and the traumatic and unexpected turn of events that halted my privileged life of adventure and marked the start of our current reality. However, I hope to think of the strength I have acquired this past year and look forward to the future, as cliché as it sounds. Nobody is okay right now, and that is very okay, but as we approach March and one year of pandemic, look back and reflect on the positives of the year and ways to turn the negatives around.