We asked our Spring 2020 bloggers to reflect on their experience with the global COVID-19 outbreak while they were abroad.
As someone who likes to research and plan just about everything I can, you can imagine my surprise when my semester abroad didn’t in any way go as I anticipated. I didn’t anticipate accidentally using fabric softener as laundry detergent the entirety of the time I was in Italy, I didn’t anticipate making lifelong friends of my 7 other random roommates, and I certainly didn’t anticipate being sent home just a few weeks into my study abroad program because of a global pandemic. I guess sometimes, and more often than not, life doesn’t go as I have so perfectly planned, but I’m starting to think it may go exactly how it should have.
The funny thing about being what I like to call a “serial googler” is that no magic number of articles you read about other people’s experience can prepare you for whatever experience you will call your own. As much as I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when choosing to study abroad in Florence, Italy for the spring semester of my junior year, I could have never been truly prepared for what I actually experienced. I didn’t think that a place could become home in such a short amount of time. I was quite literally yearning to be back in Florence every time I left for weekend trips. The sense of comfort I felt every time I walked along the Arno river and the peace that held me when I watched the sunset over the city from Piazzale Michelangelo was something I’ve never experienced before—not even in my childhood home. I wasn’t prepared to completely fall in love with a city I had only seen in photos, whose charm radiates from every cobblestone that lines every street and the rich history that magically floats through every gust of wind. I almost can’t put into words the feelings that Florence gives me, but it’s that kind of warm fuzzy one that you can picture when you close your eyes at night, the kind you never want to let go of. The kind that makes you feel like you are exactly where you are supposed to be—you are exactly who you are supposed to be.
I get that same feeling every time I think about the time I was able to spend and the bond I was able to form with 7 seven girls whom I had never met before. These amazing women became more than just my roommates, but lifelong friends—or as we call “corona sisters”. To be completely honest, I don’t know if we would have become as close as we did in the short amount of time we spent together, but I can thank my good friend COVID-19 for putting us all through this same experience where we were able to forget our differences and focus on what brought us together—being torn apart. I now have friends in every corner of the United States that I didn’t know existed just a few short months ago. If I can make any suggestion to someone who is going to study abroad: go random roommates. Thank you to Isabel, Abby, Mikaela, Olivia, Alexa, Becca, and Audrey for helping me realize so much about myself and helping me through a time that I never thought I would get through. I can’t explain the impact you all have left on me in such a short time, but I will never forget the best of times we shared in Via Della Vigna Nuova 22.
More than anything, I think this experience as a whole taught me more about myself than any additional amount of time in Europe ever could have. I was expecting to have some sort of revelation during my time in Europe about myself that would completely change my life. When I heard that we were being sent home because of COVID-19, I was most upset that I hadn’t had that revelation yet and I probably was never going to. Once my time in Europe became limited, I realized just how much I was missing out on. There was so much hidden in the everyday around me that I became completely blind to because I was always searching for something better—because of my expectations. I realize now that the huge revelation I was looking for wasn’t in any one monumental event or moment of time, but that it was something inside of me waiting for a wake-up call. I learned to appreciate more than I ever have before—to slow down and enjoy every second you have of something because you never know when it will be taken away. I learned that life is not always about the mountain tops, it’s about everything in between. When you constantly expect something greater, sometimes you miss out on the beauty of the amazing things right in front of you, right inside of you. Studying abroad was supposed to change my life. And it did. Just not in any sort of way I ever imagined, but I think I’m okay with that. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world having this experience and am unbelievably thankful for the days I did have and the memories I will cherish forever. I would take any number of days in Florence over none.
LeAnne is a Spring 2020 Florence student from the University of South Carolina.