This is a post I never expected to be writing. Studying abroad has always been a dream of mine.
I remember in the beginning of high school I would repeatedly watch videos and read blogs about traveling. Titles such as “How to Travel the World on a Budget” and “I Quit My Job to Travel the World” captivated my attention. I was so set on skipping college and exploring the world straight after high school graduation. I convinced myself I could blog about it. Film my trips. Do anything to make it work.
My parents on the other hand thought I was losing my mind. They, along with all of my aunts and uncles, may as well have held an intervention for me with the amount of times they tried convincing me to go to college. Clearly, their pleading worked. But what did they say to change my mind? They told me I could study abroad.
Four months in Europe. Living in a country I’ve never been to. Immersing myself in another culture. Visiting a new country every weekend.
I went to college with every intention of studying abroad. I even tried arranging my schedule to see if I could fit it in twice. I realized I could if I went in the summer, so during my freshman year I applied to Lehigh in Paris. Unfortunately, I wasn’t accepted to the program. I never understood why. My grades were high and I went to all of the information sessions. Maybe I was too young?
Later that spring, I heard that the Lehigh in Italy program was still accepting students. I didn’t apply because I knew that I wanted my semester study abroad to be in Italy. I had the program and courses all planned two years in advance. Why would I go to Italy twice? That was my rationale, and if I knew that I would be in the situation that I am in now, I would have signed up in an instant.
Fast forward a year later, to my spring of sophomore year. One year away from my big trip, and time to apply. Since I wanted to study abroad with SAI, I had to apply earlier than most other programs. This is where I ran into my first challenge. SAI Rome is approved by Lehigh, but not SAI Florence. Of course, I already my heart set on Florence. The courses at Florence University of the Arts were a perfect fit for my major and my interests, and all I needed to do was convince Lehigh that this school was credible and immersive. I met with my study abroad advisor and set out to get course approvals from professors in varying departments.
Back to the part when I said this was the spring of my sophomore year, let me remind you that was this past spring. The spring of 2020. Need I say more? Okay, if you haven’t caught on, I’ll say one more word: Coronavirus.
The sudden pandemic that took over the world, killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced everyone to quarantine for months. Universities across the nation evacuated and began remote learning. All of the juniors studying abroad cut their trips short and rushed home just before the U.S. closed its borders to the rest of the world. This is when I started worrying.
Somehow, I was convinced that I would still be able to study abroad. It’s a whole year from now, I told myself. Everything will be okay by then. I continued collecting course approvals and recommendations, and I submitted my petition to study with SAI at FUA.
One week ago, I received an email that my petition was approved. All I had left to do was apply to the program. Beyond thrilled and full of hope, I spent the rest of the day jumping around excitedly and rewatching Florence vlogs. I imagined myself roaming the beautiful Italian city and continued adding sights to my bucket list (created months prior).
That excitement was short-lived. The very next day Lehigh sent out an email about reopening in the fall. You’re probably wondering how that could be bad news, right? Well, it wasn’t at first. Finding out I was going back to campus and would be seeing my friends again, the week couldn’t get any better. But as I kept scrolling through the email, I noticed that Greek life housing was not guaranteed for all members, and that housing in general was not guaranteed for any juniors.
I had planned to live in my sorority house, but only ten juniors would be able to stay. The other 16 of us had to find alternative living arrangements, and we had to do it fast. I can’t say those numbers are correct at the moment, or that my name would be shuffled off the list, but my sorority sisters and I did the math, and that is the best result we are expecting.
Juniors in all of the sororities began hunting for housing off campus. My friends found a house, and if I wanted to join them, I had to decide not to study abroad. Houses were going off the market, people were grouping up, and if I didn’t want to be in the sorority house without my close friends, or possibly stuck without any plans, I had to move in with them. Why can’t I study abroad if I live off campus? Because I have to sign a full year lease. It’s too expensive and unreasonable to pay for housing in Bethlehem and full tuition to study abroad with housing there. After hours, and I mean hours, of crying and weighing pros and cons, I decided to move into the off campus house and not study abroad.
A dream I spent years building completely erased in just a few hours. I still can’t believe it.
To rationalize why I made this decision, I consider all of the reasons studying abroad now won’t be the same as I had dreamed. For one, it’s not promised. There can be another outbreak of coronavirus before I go that forces me to stay home. Second, the SAI program isn’t letting any students travel to other countries this fall. If that policy continues in the spring, it would take away a huge part of the experience. Third, I try to picture myself walking around Florence in a mask. That is certainly not what I imagined my trip would look like, and it’s definitely not how I would want to remember my time there.
And lastly, another big change in my plans, I want to graduate early. I don’t want to lose time with my friends or speed up my college experience, especially since I already lost a semester to COVID-19, but the only reason I wasn’t graduating early was because I planned on studying abroad. In reality, I can graduate early without overloading credits for any remaining semesters. I already signed my housing lease for senior year, but saving on tuition beats paying that rent. Also, since I will be paying that rent, I can visit while everyone is still on campus. I figured it would be best to use that saved time and money to travel. I’m hoping that things will be back to normal by then, and I can get the true abroad experience I’ve been waiting for.
The featured photo is from the blog Hand Luggage Only.
The second photo is from Traveloka.
The third photo is from DoTravel.