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TCK Diaries #2: Studying from Abroad to Studying Abroad — During a Pandemic

Check out the latest installments of the TCK series by MaryCate Sperrazza:

7 Signs that You’re a Third Culture Kid

TCK Diaries #1: Home is a Feeling

With the looming stay-at-home order going into effect on March 17th, 2020 for San Francisco county, I booked a last-second flight to leave in the early morning. My destination was a bit different from many, and included an international flight, as I was going home to my parents in the United Kingdom. While this was my only realistic, long-term option, it brought a new challenge to the whole online academic scheme: studying from abroad, with an eight (8!) hour time difference to my university in San Francisco.

Studying from abroad was my only option, and it was one that brought me comfort as I was at home, with my parents and in a very secure situation, despite the tumultuous times enduring outside. The time zone difference was not as big of a deal as I originally thought it would be, as everything else was closed, and school was my only commitment. Having class until 2:30 AM twice a week was not enjoyable, but it was bearable for the privilege of having the comfort of everything else in my life being stable and otherwise healthy.

My summer passed in an atypical way for 2020, as I was able to drive to France and spend some time enjoying nice weather, beaches and good food, while the United States seemed to be faltering and the pandemic was allegedly kicking into high gear. To be honest, I thought that my summer was an indication of life returning to “normal,” tourism resuming and happiness reappearing. But one after another, my study abroad programs got canceled for the fall semester, and my questions of what I would be doing began piling up quickly.

Ultimately, the fall semester was another one of studying from abroad. I spent half the semester in the United Kingdom (Pacific Time+8), and then we moved halfway through the semester to France (Pacific Time+9). Although this new “normal” of studying from abroad became a habitual experience for me, it got exhausting quickly during the fall semester. Not only did Zoom fatigue become apparent, but the time zone differences and desire to live during the daylight eventually hit me. Suddenly I was sleeping during class, hardly going outside, passing hours in the grocery store just to feel something, and it was all just bizarre.

After my mentally and emotionally draining fall semester, I made a promise to myself that I would not do another semester fully online. By a twist of fate, one of my study abroad programs did not get canceled for the spring semester, so I am writing this from Senegal! Studying abroad during a pandemic is nothing to be overly glamorized, nor is it something to be taken lightly. We have been tested for COVID-19 numerous times, we completed a 14-day quarantine upon arrival into the country, and we will likely have to quarantine once back in our home country, depending on their restrictions at the time. 

This study abroad experience is not one that I believe deserves to be compared to previous semesters, for much of it is understanding how we can positively interact with a local community while being respectful and extremely aware of health restrictions, and being broadly socially responsible. It is, however, one that has been an immense learning opportunity for all of the students, and one of true growth. Plus the classes are in the same time zone as our bodies, so that’s a major win in my books!

Studying from abroad and studying abroad are not for the faint of heart, and they are both imperfect, even when not done during a pandemic. However, from this TCK to the world, everything is what you make of it, and nothing is perfect. This past year has not been the most enjoyable for most people, but taking what you have and making the best of the hand that you are dealt is what matters most. So long as you are in pursuit of the best version of yourself, you are doing the right thing. 

MaryCate (she/her/hers) is a Senior International Studies major with a concentration in the Environment & Development and minors in African Studies and French Studies at the University of San Francisco. MaryCate is Campus Correspondent of HC at USFCA. She loves traveling, baking and all things related to coffee. While in San Francisco, you can find MaryCate getting brunch with her friends or indoor rock climbing in the Presidio. While not in San Francisco, MaryCate is frequently passing time at home with her parents in France or traveling anywhere, when safe.
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