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My Experience Studying Abroad During COVID-19

by Alyssa Tolentino
Young woman in airport wearing a mask | AIFS Study Abroad

When I was packing for my semester abroad in January 2020, a global pandemic was not even on my radar. My dad, however, was sending away his first-born across an ocean and was thinking of everything. I thought he was being silly when he squeezed a few surgical masks into my suitcase before our last weigh-in, but man, was I glad for his dad instincts. 

I arrived in Grenoble, France in the middle of January, so excited for what this semester abroad could bring. Most of all, I was looking forward to traveling as much as I could. News of the pandemic was still not anything serious by then. Many students in my program were even beginning to make plans for spring break in April, myself included. The first real cause for alarm came in the middle of our winter break at the end of February. I found myself in Milan, Italy, almost a week before the region had to shut down. When I returned to France, the university was taking extra precautions and asked that I self-isolate for two weeks. It was surreal! After nearly two months without any concerns about the coronavirus, everything seemed to change in an instant.

I leaned on my Resident Director, Miranda, most in those times. By the time I arrived back from winter break to my student residence, she had already made a plan with the director of the residence to be as safe as possible during the quarantine. Though I never had any symptoms, she always gave me the option of seeing a doctor, all taken care of by the insurance through AIFS. Most of all, she was always available to ease our worries in a time when everything was becoming uncertain.

For weeks, it seemed the only thing we talked about among us AIFS students was the possibility of being sent home. We were all paying close attention to the number of cases back home in the U.S. and in our region in France. Some of us were optimistic, believing the situation would get better soon and we’d be able to stay. Some of us were pessimistic, estimating a month or even just weeks left for us in France. For the most part, I stayed as optimistic as possible, focusing on my classes and enjoying Grenoble as winter was turning to spring. But the email did eventually come, detailing the suspension of our program.

Surreal would be the best word to describe those last few days in Grenoble. Between packing and spending as much time with the friends we have made there as possible, we barely had even time to even process that our semester abroad was ending. I am grateful to Miranda and AIFS for making the process as seamless as possible with finding flights and being the emotional support that we all needed. I’ll never forget waving goodbye to Miranda and Grenoble on the train platform and waiting in the near-empty airport for my flight back home. 

Since coming home, a lot of people have asked me if I wished I had gone a different semester, or even if I regretted going abroad. And I say, absolutely not.

The two months I did have abroad were the best times of my life and I met amazing people through it. I’ve grown so much in those two months and I do believe I am stronger because of it. If you are thinking of studying abroad after COVID-19, I say go for it. AIFS always put my health and safety first and will be more committed to that than ever moving forward. The biggest lesson I learned from my experience studying abroad during a global pandemic like COVID-19 is that tomorrow is never guaranteed. So, live for today and make the most of every opportunity. No matter where you choose to study abroad or for how long, any opportunity abroad will leave an impact on you forever.

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