My story of self through the pandemic starts back in 2017. While many of my friends
were filling out Rotary Exchange applications, for a year abroad, I was anxiously sitting back.
Although I have always loved to travel, and fully romanticized a year abroad, my own doubt and
anxiety held me back. I felt far too young, scared, and incapable of taking on a year without my
friends and family halfway across the world. If you don’t know me, I should probably add that I
hate breaking routine, and I hate the unknown; organizing, planning, and routine are my lifeline.
It keeps me sane, and it keeps my anxiety at bay. So, in grade 12, when I was unable to commit
to a year abroad, I decided I would start planning a semester abroad to Australia through UPEI
for when I was a little older and felt more prepared (but jokes on me I never more felt prepared).
For three years, I did everything in my power to ensure a semester abroad would be
possible. I met with the semester abroad coordinator at UPEI, so many times I think she was
probably tired of seeing me. I met with my academic advisor every year to ensure I was on the
right track. I have even taken summer courses three years in a row to make sure my semester
abroad would be possible without delaying graduation. As I said, I love to plan.
The process for applying abroad is stressful, to say the least. Australia is so far away, and
the time zones are so different that it was nearly impossible to communicate effectively. After
hundreds of emails, a failed application, three attempts at a student visa, and I’m not going to lie,
many tears of disappointment and frustration, I was finally accepted to La Trobe University in
Australia through a student visa on December 27th, 2019 to start school in March of 2020. But
the sheer joy, excitement, and relief did not last long into 2020. Along with the early weeks of
2020 came many doubts and suggestions against going due to rampant forest fires, WWIII
threats, and a horrible airplane bombing.
Regardless, I finally boarded a plane in Charlottetown at 5 am on January 19th, 2020, to
head to Asia for a month of travelling before school started. I left less than a month after officially
getting accepted. I couldn’t believe I was actually doing it, after all the hard work and obstacles
thus far, along with my doubt and anxiety that was still hanging around like it was for little grade
12 me. This trip was so out of routine, with so many unknowns – I am still surprised to this day
my anxiety let me get on that plane.
During our 12 hour layover in Montreal, for the very first time, I heard about the novel
coronavirus (COVID-19) on the news. Looking back, it’s as clear as day, kind of like how people
can remember where they were when they heard about the twin towers attacks or when Princess
Diana died. At the time, COVID was the least of my worries. I was so naive. If I am being
honest, COVID continued to be the least of my concerns while I travelled through Asia – which is
CRAZY looking back. But how was I supposed to know?
After an incredible month in the sun, we made it to Australia. At which point,
unfortunately, COVID anxiety started to hit. It was beginning to seem very real and very scary.
After only two short weeks in Australia, it was becoming increasingly clear that forest fires and
threats of WWIII were not the only things that were going to try to ruin my semester abroad. It
quickly became an extremely stressful few weeks of juggling experiences, COVID, travelling,
school, and deciding what I should do. Do I stay and deal with COVID in Australia and risk
getting stuck here or, worse, getting sick here? Or Do I lose my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity
but ensure I am safe at home? This was one of the scariest decisions I have ever faced.
Unfortunately or maybe luckily, I still can’t decide, Justin Trudeau made that decision for me.
Mid- March (after three weeks of being in Australia), the announcement was made by the
Canadian government that all Canadians abroad have to come home.
The unknown of how and when I was getting home was horrible. I called my parents
twice a day for a week to make sure my flights hadn’t been cancelled. People were getting stuck
all over the world, and I was getting frightened. As much as I wanted to stay, I knew it wouldn’t
be the same; my opportunity was ruined, and at that point, I just wanted to be home.
A week later, I was home on PEI. After only a month of being in Australia and being
home a whole four months early, I quarantined alone in my cottage. The frustration and
disappointment I felt those two weeks put a lot of strain on me and my mental health. Although
there is no one to blame, I couldn’t help but take out my emotions.
People often ask me if I plan to go back. I honestly find this kind of silly. When? When
would I go back, when will COVID be over? How? This trip was so expensive and took years of
planning. Semesters abroad give you the chance to live somewhere, not just visit. How? How can
I get this opportunity again? Why? Why would I go back when I lost my opportunity? When? I
am in school, then going to grad school, then I’ll need a job.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I just won’t get back. My two months of
travel were incredible, the people I met were amazing, and the experiences were surreal. I am
forever proud of myself for overcoming my anxiety. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity I
was given. But even almost a year later, I can’t help but feel disappointed, frustrated, mad, and
robbed. I feel robbed of my opportunities, robbed of 4 months in Australia, robbed of my money,
robbed of my three years of planning, robbed of my excitement and curiosity, robbed of the
experiences I could’ve had and the people I could’ve met. Yet…
I am an optimist. I am a happy-go-lucky girl. I hate to end this on a sad note. I think this
year everyone experienced sadness, heartache, and disappointment. But I think people learned a
lot too. I think as a community, a group of people experiencing a pandemic, we rose from it. This
year I have experienced more anxiety, changes, and lack of routine than ever before, but this
taught me how to cope better. I lived with my boyfriend during lockdown for the first time. I got
a new job. I started running and ran my first 5km race with my mom, followed by my own first
10km run. I didn’t live this whole pandemic year in frustration and disappointment, so it would
be wrong of me to highlight all the sadness without the good, as that is simply not who I am. I
have had my days where I look through my memories of Australia and feel sorry for myself. But
I have had some really great days this year as well. I won’t forget the good or the bad of 2020 as
I go into 2021.