Nearly three weeks ago, I received an email from the University of Toronto letting me know that my study abroad experience was over. The federal government was urging all Canadians to return home as soon as possible, due to the coronavirus pandemic. My parents had seen this coming a few days in advance and booked a flight to avoid the hoopla before everyone and their cousins started booking return flights.
Do you mind coming home? My sister asked through FaceTime, the night before I left my host country. I replied that no, I was ready.
Despite the devastation of ending my studying abroad chapter early, I had learned a lifelong lesson during my outbound exchange. Things don’t always go according to plan, but the best thing to do is accept reality and keep going. Yes, my time in Spain wrapped four months ahead of time (due to a terrifying global pandemic), but I also gained an invaluable experience and a whole lot of self-confidence and independence. I proved to myself that I can navigate a foreign country entirely on my own and without the support of my parents. I learned how to handle money, manage my time and how to juggle school and my social life better.
Some people study abroad to look good for future employers. To say, look how cultured I am! I studied in Rome! Studying abroad, however, is more than just academics. At least, for me, it’s more about the people you meet who reserve space in your heart and the beautiful places that you visit and the experiences you gain.
If my wistful writing hasn’t already made it obvious, I’m a hopeless idealist. Studying abroad was amazing and life-changing, but it was also a little disappointing–due to its early end. And that’s okay.
The harsh reality is that studying abroad is not a break from the real world. It’s the real world. And in the real world, life happens. You make friends, you lose friends. You watch your bank account swell at the start of each semester and you watch it dwindle at an alarming pace as the months go by. The weather gets cold (just like in Canada!) and you learn to accept that every place has its own flaws. And, global pandemics happen, as well.
But, another fantastic thing I’ve garnered from all this is a new-found appreciation for home. There’s a comforting feeling in knowing that your family and loved ones await you, no matter where you go. Even if you travel to the Bahamas, or Beijing or New Zealand. Knowing that there’s a place where you belong creates a sense of security and the type of comfort and feel-good emotions that only Christmas baking can bring.
In the future, I may return to Spain. I still have people there that I’d love to see. But when I think of my study abroad experience, it’s not all roses and sunshine and puppies. Life happens. And that’s okay.