It is hard to imagine that a month ago I was studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. I was slowly and surely settling into my new life in a new country surrounded by new people. I was, quite frankly, having the time of my life. I had fallen in love with Madrid and all the amazing possibilities that came with study abroad: traveling the world, forging new friendships, and experiencing new cultures (just to name a few). Leaving Madrid on March 13 due to increasing concerns over coronavirus in Spain was a difficult decision that I did not take lightly; having to cut short this amazing time of self discovery and learning left me feeling empty and uneasy.
My uneasiness continued to grow from the moment I stepped off the plane in Chicago. Chicago O’Hare International Airport was one of the only few airports at the time that were accepting international travelers into the US. Under federal jurisdiction, all international passengers were mandated to go through enhanced health screenings. This meant standing in line for hours to go through customs and then get temperature checks. Although a frustrating and tense situation, the silver lining was some of the other study abroad students that I had met while stranded in line for hours. I was able to find comfort in the fact that they were also going through the same emotional and even physical pain caused by long days of travelling, feelings of withdrawal from their study abroad countries, as well as uncertainty about what the future would hold.
Even in this chaos–so chaotic that my parents watched it on national news–the comfort I received from this small, makeshift community of other study abroad students juxtaposed the madness of the situation. The point is, the comfort found in community is a very powerful tool, especially in times of struggle such as the pandemic we face today.
Finding comfort is as simple as finding community in those people that you share something with–whether that be values, an experience, or blood lines. Community comes in many shapes and sizes, and exists all around you. Communities are found in the towns and cities we live in; my heart is filled every time I hear the beeping of cars participating in the weekly “birthday parades” my small village puts on. Community also exists in our families and friends. It is even alive in the groupchats that have been dead for months. And if you are having trouble finding community, create it. There is no doubt, that right now, others also need some sense of community and belonging.
Some days have been better than others during this extended period of quarantine and social distancing. At the end of the day, all the chocolate I stock up and the Netflix shows I binge watch can only comfort me so much. However, finding a sense of community never fails to comfort me. Community cultivates a healthy sense of comfort that enriches our souls and pushes us to be better individuals.
Even if many communities are strictly digital at this time, I still find comfort in my weekly Zoom calls led by my Community small group, text messages from my friends and family, or even the daily emails from SLU employees reminding us that we are OneSLU. These small notions of community and love remind us that together, we are bigger than this pandemic, and are not alone in our feelings of isolation, uneasiness, and fear right now. In that simple, but powerful revelation, we can achieve some comfort in this uncomfortable time.