Studying Abroad in the Age of Coronavirus

The virus hit fast. We were just settling into classes. It started the week I finally learned my way around Wellington, New Zealand. The novel Coronavirus, or COVID-19, started as a rumor, just a whisper really, and turned into a storm that swept violently across the world. 

It was only the second or third week of classes at Victoria University of Wellington when some of my friends from International Studies Abroad (ISA) told us that their schools were trying to bring them back to the United States. It seemed crazy to us then– New Zealand only had five cases of Coronavirus, so we were clearly safer here. But the virus spread, as it had everywhere else, and the panic and confusion grew.

One of my classes was Victorian Literature and throughout the questions, fears, and doubts, I struggled with my copy of David Copperfield (which was large enough to knock me out long before Coronavirus ever could). I snuck a chapter in here and there between trying to go to the major restaurants and sights on Cuba Street. 

David Copperfield in a Coffee Shop
Here’s how I get through my homework: hot chocolate!

As my professor lectured about David Copperfield’s uneasiness at home, international students at Victoria felt increasing unease. We had tough decisions to make. While the situation in New Zealand seemed safer than the United States, we had no idea what the future held. All of us crave excitement, it’s one reason we signed up for study abroad, but this was an adventure far beyond what we were ready for. 

We began asking each other unanswerable questions. “When will it end?” “When will flights resume again?” “Is there a way to still stay in the country?” Our time here had just begun and suddenly we felt pulled into two different directions: the familiarity and comfort of home and the exciting newness of Wellington

Long phone calls to our parents and anxious discussions became normal. We stressed each other out with our guessing and worrying. Conversations seemed full of negative views. Yet, we still had many wonderful memories to hold onto. 

One of the weekends before the concern over Coronavirus really materialized, we went on an excursion to a nearby farm. There, we met sheep, pigs, donkeys, cows, chickens, chicks, goats, and bunnies. The soft innocence and tranquility of the animals improved our spirits. 

feeding a donkey in wellington new zealand
This is one of the donkeys on the farm!

Having New Zealand-specific memories like this one helped ease the distress of the Coronavirus craziness to come. Our relaxation and happiness around the farm animals gave us something to smile about even when our journeys abroad were cut short. 

As life during this pandemic progresses, I think we all are struggling with the inability to travel and explore. We feel cooped up. Caged. It seems like there isn’t much to do. Despite those feelings, we can still travel in a sense.

No matter what happens with COVID-19, the sights we have seen will be something we can remember and appreciate. When we feel bored or restless, we can always reminisce. I challenge you to share your favorite travel memory with your family and friends. Better yet, start a trend and post it online! These travel memories can be what helps us through isolation.

One day, hopefully soon, it will be time to explore again!

Trees and Sheep

Sierra DeWalt is a student at Chapman University. She is an ISA Featured Blogger and studying with ISA in Wellington, New Zealand.

4 thoughts

  1. Love your blog, Sierra. You are an excellent writer Sierra! Really enjoy reading about your experiences.

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