Never Giving Up on Studying Abroad: Lessons from the COVID-19 Era
Global Education Graduate Assistant Blake Mello writes about his own extensive study abroad experience.Dec 1, 2023
The dream of studying abroad has always been a powerful motivator for countless students worldwide. It offers the opportunity to explore new cultures, gain international exposure, and embark on a life-altering adventure. However, the COVID-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges, making it seem as though studying abroad was an impossible dream. Despite these obstacles, myself along with many other students refused to give up, our experiences offering valuable lessons in resilience, adaptability, and the pursuit of one’s dream.1. Adaptability in the Face of Uncertainty
The first lesson I learned from the COVID-19 era is adaptability. When the pandemic hit, travel restrictions and university closures threw a wrench into the well-laid plans of thousands of students aspiring to study abroad. But the pandemic highlighted the necessity of being adaptable and open to change. Many students altered their study plans, opting for remote learning, deferring their admission, or finding alternative destinations.
My plan of spending the summer of 2020 navigating the bustling streets of Tokyo seemed to diminish as the pandemic continued to spread like wildfire. Determined to find myself abroad, I was forced to look elsewhere. With the hopes of looser restrictions by 2021, I looked toward Europe.
2. Resilience and Perseverance
Studying abroad during a global crisis required an extraordinary level of resilience. The uncertainty surrounding travel and health concerns made the process incredibly challenging. I remember the nights researching the everchanging travel restrictions, health guidelines, and quarantine guidelines - I felt as though I was navigating a maze with shifting walls. Maintaining determination highlighted the imperative role of tenacity and resilience in achieving one’s goals, even in the most adverse circumstances.
Although Tokyo 2020 didn’t come to fruition, I had set my sites on a new goal: Switzerland 2021. However, as the summer of 2021 approached, and COVID-19 continued to run rampant, I was forced to pivot again. Ultimately, I found myself in Bilbao, Spain.
3. Reevaluating Priorities
The pandemic forced many students to reevaluate their priorities and adapt their study plans accordingly. Some chose to study closer to home, while others opted for online programs. This change in perspective underscores the importance of flexibility in the pursuit of one’s goals.
Although my heart had been set on studying abroad in Tokyo, I had to look inward and decide what was most important for me. Ultimately, I realized that I could explore new cultures, gain international exposure, and embark on a life-altering adventure in any new destination, if I had the right attitude. Every situation is what you make of it.
4. Appreciate the Present
The pandemic reminded us of the value of the present moment. Many students were disappointed about postponed plans or the inability to travel, but the experience emphasized the importance of embracing the current situation.
Although I had ended up continents away from where I had originally planned to study abroad – I knew I ended up where I needed to be. I was able to explore and immerse myself in the Basque culture. I was able to explore incredible places I had never heard of. And I was able to make life-long connections with incredible peers and mentors – none of which I would’ve met had COVID-19 not taken me down this path.
5. Building Global Resilience:
The pandemic heightened global awareness and empathy. Students who persisted with their study abroad plans during COVID-19 learned to adapt to different cultural norms, government regulations, and societal responses to the pandemic – acquiring a unique perspective that will serve them well in an interconnected world, where international collaboration is essential to overcome global challenges.
Arriving in Spain, I was forced to assimilate to society as they respond to COVID-19. With protocols differing from those of the U.S.A in our responses to the pandemic, I was enamored with the sense of community brought about by the pandemic. The people of Bilbao looked out not only for themselves during the pandemic, but their whole community.
The COVID-19 era has taught us that dreams of studying abroad should never be given up on, even in the face of adversity. The pandemic demonstrated that adaptability, resilience, and a willingness to embrace change are essential in achieving our goals. Whether through online learning, local opportunities, or modified plans, the pursuit of knowledge and experience can continue, and these experiences can be equally transformative, if not more so. As the world has begun to recover from the pandemic, myself amongst thousands of other students who persevered and made studying abroad during the COVID-19 era a reality, will emerge with a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world, and our journeys will undoubtable be enriched by the valuable lessons we learned along the way.