Studying Abroad: Interrupted- My Experience Studying Abroad with COVID-19 PART ONE- The Beginning

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected and continues to affect the lives of people globally, it has had a profound effect on my life as well. I have been blessed to retain my health throughout the pandemic, but just as for so many people around the world, 2020 has been a difficult year. This is my experience studying abroad during a pandemic, part one.

Leaving for Australia: excited, and completely oblivious to what was coming so soon.

Over a year of research, planning, and saving was finally set to pay off in February 2020. I was finally taking off for Australia! My flights were booked, my bags were packed, and my planner was full of excursions, sights, and experiences for the next few months. This was to be the beginning of my life of travelling. I was so sure that my first ever international flight would be only the beginning to me seeing 10+ countries before the year was over. 

The semester was off to an amazing start; I had already explored so much, seen the beautiful University of Sydney campus, made friends from across the world who I could feel would be lifelong friends, and started my roster of classes that I had true interest in. My biggest worry had been the bushfires that were raging through Australia the months before, and the toll they had taken on the nation and it’s environmental well-being. Who would’ve guessed that in three short weeks on campus, the entire world would be burning?

My world came crashing down March 18th, messages filling my inbox titled “URGENT,” “Program Cancelation,” “Return to the U.S. Immediately.” How could this all have escalated so quickly and so tragically? Working up to three jobs at a time for a year and a half, running across campus for months for course approvals, relentlessly applying for dozens of study abroad grants and scholarships, and the months of meticulous planning and budgeting, all for what? I was in pieces. Furthermore, my options were so limited. I’d paid upfront for 6 months of very expensive housing in Sydney, I’d spent a large chuck of money on flights, luggage, visas, and home essentials, and I was looking for a job abroad to help support myself which I hadn’t yet found. My on-campus living options were terminated since I was coming from abroad, and I would’ve needed to take out an emergency loan or pay out-of-pocket to book a flight home and find housing in the United States. I would’ve needed to continue my classes from abroad for the semester with a time zone difference of 15-17 hours. This didn’t seem like an option. The best option for me was a risky, yet brave one: defy the recommendations, remain abroad. 

My view for months of lockdown. Envious to see the essential personnel walking outside, in the fresh air and sunlight.

As friends started to leave, my mother began to call worried, and borders began to close, I did question my decision to stay, just as anyone would. Still, I felt incredibly safe in Australia, even during lockdown. I had stable housing, a space where I could safely isolate and continue my studies without distractions, resources to keep me provided for, and friends to keep me mentally stimulated as we stayed in our apartment for weeks on end, taking trips only to the grocery store or for a late-night sanity walk. Moreso, staying didn’t involve getting on an international flight, travelling in an airport and across the world at a time when masks were not recommended, on my way to a place where my health coverage was not as substantial by half if I were to get sick. To me, it didn’t involve as much risk as going home. Home seemed like a dangerous place.

So how did my experience turn out with my decision to stay? That’s a story for another day. 😉

– Robynn P. from Down Under

Link to Part Two:

Link to Part Three:

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