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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Growing up, college was always something that I looked forward to. I was excited for all of the classes that I’d be able to take, the friends I’d make, and the experiences I thought I’d have thanks to the glorified college experience depicted in every coming of age movie. But for me, the most exciting thing opportunity was studying abroad.

As a kid, the only constant in the visions of my future was travel. I wanted to visit so many countries and the plan was to begin my travels during college. I didn’t know where I’d end up going to school or what I’d be studying, but I knew I’d live abroad for a semester. When I discovered Pinterest and learned that I could use it to find information about studying abroad and traveling, I was constantly looking at all of the places I anticipated visiting, as well as others that I knew nothing about. I was hungry for information about travel and at the start of my freshman year of high school I began to plan my semester in Europe. I had Pinterest boards for every country I was considering (and believe me, that was a high number) as well as a board for all of my study abroad prep sheets. I was ready for anything life could throw at me — I had the answer to almost any problem I could encounter abroad.

But I didn’t plan for a pandemic.

COVID struck right before my junior year of college. I don’t know why, but I’d always planned on studying abroad during that year. In the weeks leading up to the COVID outbreaks in the U.S., I felt invincible. I was going to Spain that fall and I was sure that I’d come back in December thoroughly exhausted from my travels. Instead, I was thoroughly exhausted from health anxiety and the state of affairs around the world. My program was rescheduled for the next spring and then quickly the next fall, fall 2021. I was hopeful that vaccines would make their appearance and help the world get closer to normal by fall 2021, which at the time was a full year away. Though the program in Spain was not cancelled for this fall and I could have gone, I made the decision to withdraw over COVID concerns, which was a difficult decision that I agonized over. I lamented over my options over multiple FaceTime calls to my best friend, who told me that it seemed like I’d already decided to pull out. She was right.

I was confident that any changes or cancellations to my program would have already occurred, but parts of me wondered whether the university in Spain would go online after I’d have missed my chance to take classes at my home university. After a year off because of COVID, I was eager to get back to finish my degree and didn’t even want to think about this possibility. At the time, Spain hadn’t opened up vaccinations to most people under 30, which was concerning because I knew I’d be surrounded by this age group at all times. Because I’d also be living with a host family, I didn’t think it was worth it to put them at risk for a nonessential activity. And I didn’t want to take the risk of winding up at the hospital in a foreign country and having to navigate it during a pandemic while barely knowing the language. There was also the added risk of spending a large sum of money only to be locked down or doing online classes. Of course, I could have opted to go abroad and there’s always the chance I’d have had a great time and met cool people and learned much more Spanish than I already knew. But for me, the cons outweighed the pros in this debate. 

Once I realized that I’d made my decision, I was relieved to have a plan but disheartened that I wouldn’t be able to do the one thing that I’d been looking forward to for years. A month and a half later it still stings to think of what might have been. If I’d stayed in the program, I’d be spending this time getting ready to leave. I’d probably be packing up and seeing all of my friends and boyfriend as much as possible before leaving town. I’d be getting my film and cameras ready for the greatest trip of my life so far.

But then I wouldn’t have moved into an apartment that I adore with a fun new roommate-turned-friend.

I probably wouldn’t have gotten to enroll in the class that has reinvigorated my interest in journalism.

I wouldn’t have dropped a major that neither my heart nor head were fully in, and therefore would have been further from graduating.

It was a difficult decision, but COVID changed my life as much as it changed my college experience. I generally like change, though I struggled through this one as it wasn’t a storm I was prepared to weather. Humans, however, are made to adapt no matter how difficult the circumstances and we’re able to shift our priorities as needed. COVID has forced people to rethink their life plans personally and professionally, and I am no exception. I’m happy to report that my changes were nowhere near catastrophic or major, but they did need to happen. As much as it hurt to make in the moment it has been worth forgoing a long-awaited experience for a safer and smarter semester.

Junior studying Journalism and International Studies
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