Our laughter carried as we walked up the beach following a sunset snorkel in Australia when our professors abruptly stopped us for an urgent meeting. I immediately knew something was off. We had heard rumors about COVID-19 reaching the states and how the University of Georgia’s spring break was extended, but being on the southernmost island of the Great Barrier Reef with no Wi-Fi leaves you pretty blissfully unaware of the rest of the world.
I was with 31 of the fastest friends I’d ever made for a semester with UGA’s Discover Abroad program. In January 2020, we flew from Georgia to Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia. Unfortunately, we were unable to continue our attempt to outrun COVID-19 and missed the Fiji portion of the program. We cried, even our professors cried. We had already been wary of the fast-approaching end of our trip. Separating our tight-knit group seemed like the worst possibility to us, but separating prematurely left us frustrated and blindsided.
We were told the pandemic had become serious and the United States planned to close international borders. We had barely 48 hours to get out of Australia. Our professors scrambled to help us find a way back to America, as our flights were delayed and some even canceled due to the sheer panic across the globe. I remember standing in the Brisbane Airport in utter disbelief after hearing Fiji closed its borders and we would have to be rerouted. Four airports and 40 hours later, we reached LAX and proceeded to say our weary goodbyes. I can still recollect the growing pit of concern in my stomach as I sat in the eerie, nearly-empty terminal waiting to board my own flight home.
Even after the fearful whirlwind of traveling back to America, I can assure you at that time, we never would have thought the virus would end up being what it is today. Nobody did.
I recognize my privilege of studying abroad and have been fortunate on the whole during this pandemic. However, we should still be allowed to grieve these losses in college. It’s important to point out how college students have lost a significant chunk of one of the most invaluable, explorative and transformative times of our lives, and opportunities to live and learn abroad are scarce after these four years.
A year later, my heart breaks for the students whose long-awaited study abroad programs were revoked entirely due to the pandemic.
UGA’s two main international centers, Oxford and Cortona, are both located in countries that currently possess level three (reconsider travel) travel advisories out of a possible four (do not travel). While it’s understandable that UGA had to cancel its 2021 study abroad programs, a number of students have been impacted, especially those who face the complications these cancellations have had on their graduation track.
So, for the students whose 2020 abroad programs were cut short and the students whose 2021 adventures were canceled, it’s okay to feel that loss, but know that there are other ways you can recreate experiences that elicit the same joys of adventuring — even if it is just a road trip.
I know we’re all anxiously anticipating the days where we reintroduce passports, plane tickets and feelings of aspiration into our lives, rather than the constant season of loss we’ve found ourselves in. I hope one way or another, we can find ways to make up for those lost travels as soon as we get the chance.