Third Year International Business Student Haley Smoody Reflects on Her Study Abroad Experience During Covid-19

I have dreamed of traveling around the world since I was a young girl. I had a little globe toy that taught you about cultures and languages that I absolutely loved to play with. My family did not travel much when I was younger and I didn’t see the ocean until I was 16 years old. My first time on a transatlantic flight was the summer of 2019, heading to China for an international internship experience through the Freeman Foundation Grant at Champlain College.

I’m really lucky not to have only one, but two abroad opportunities in my college career so far. When I arrived in Ireland in early January of 2020, I had a list of countries I wanted to see since I would be living in Europe for four months. I booked trips to Milan, London, Berlin, Budapest, Amsterdam, Prague, Mallorca, and Vienna. I also immediately made friends from all around the globe in our living accommodation, and we quickly became a little family.

Exploring with friends

My whole world was turned upside down on March 12th. I woke up to a call from our Student Life Manager telling me not to get on my flight to Amsterdam that night. After I hung up I noticed three emails, one from Champlain’s home campus in Vermont, and two from our Champlain Abroad Dublin Program Director. I immediately started crying.  The emails didn’t say it, but I knew we were being sent home. I called both my parents, and explained to them through the tears that I wasn’t going on my spring break, and that I would probably be booking a flight home that same day. I started looking at my list of trips with a broken heart – I had only made it to Milan. I started canceling flights, hostel accommodations, and requesting refunds. I had spiraled into a panic adding up the cost of everything I was not able to do.  I had a trip to Mallorca, Spain booked for the first week of May which would mark my last week in Europe; I kept it booked hoping I would be able to travel then.

Reminder to wash your hands on a window on Thomas Street

We were called to a Spring 2020 group meeting that day where Champlain Abroad staff announced we were going home. It was one of the most emotionally tense rooms I have ever been in. The following weekend was probably one of my best weekends in Dublin. I said yes to everything, and I spent my last hours with my international friends.

Rainbow in Dublin, seen from Champlain College’s Academic Centre.

Upon my arrival home to the US, I was still very sad and angry at the universe. Adjusting to home after being abroad is always difficult, and this time was no exception. It was then that I decided I had no more tears left to cry about my experience, so I made a list. I listed out every accomplishment I had made during my study abroad time:

  • Interned at ParkPnP, an Irish Tech Company
  • Adjusted to Irish professors 
  • Learned how to live with SEVEN people, and still get along
  • Got my nose pierced
  • Became apart of my local Dublin community, The Liberties
  • Cooked my heart out, and loved every minute of it
  • Attended an International Women’s Day event at the Facebook European headquarters
  • Walked everywhere, and made a mental map of Dublin
  • Made life-long friends from all around the world
  • Went on an amazing trips to Northern Ireland and Milan
  • Went to all of Tony’s 5 euro dinners and other Student Life Events (they were all great)
  • Left of piece of me in Dublin 
Enjoying a night out in Dublin with friends
International Women’s Day event at the Facebook HQ

Making this list has really helped me appreciate everything I got the opportunity to do. It wasn’t until I started the remote classes that I really got into a routine that allowed me to start looking forward. There are lots of blessings in disguise that come with working from home. I started working out to get myself back on track, and I have never felt better. I am the oldest of five children, and it is the longest period of time we have all been home together in a very long time. We have already made lots of great family isolation memories. As far as school goes, we still work with the same Irish professors we had before; it’s just a different platform. This has allowed me to have more time to reflect on the material we are learning because there are a lot fewer distractions (like watching How I Met Your Mother with your roommates WHILE you do your work). I feel like I have connected more with my professors now too because we are all working to engage with the online platform since we aren’t in Dublin anymore plus we are all going through this global pandemic together. 

There are some big life lessons that I have learned from being abroad during a global pandemic. (Most of these are cliches that I realized are so true)

Life doesn’t just happen to you. I have tried my best to find the positives of life in isolation. It gives you a great excuse to get those things done that you will “get to eventually.”

Patience is a virtue. We all are waiting around at home, we all are experiencing grief, we all are adjusting, and each of us is going to handle that differently. Being patient with change, people, and ourselves comes in handy right now.

Change can be a beautiful thing. I have experienced so much change since January, and I am a better person because of it. I moved to a foreign country, I made new friends, I adjusted to new teaching styles, I worked in an Irish workplace, I made myself a new home abroad, I had to cancel my travel plans, and I had to move home unexpectedly.

All those things mean that I now have an even bigger motivation to make my way back to Europe, and it has pushed me to realize that I want to keep traveling for the rest of my life. It also has given me even more tolerance for change and difference. My semester abroad didn’t go as planned, but I will still hold it close to my heart. 

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