A reflection on corona-versary and going abroad during a pandemic

As we come up on a year since coronavirus sent us all home from school I find myself reflecting back a lot this week on how life has changed in the past year, what I took for granted, what new doors corona has opened or closed for me, and what the future might bring.  In so many ways my abroad experience has been defined by COVID for better or worse. This week for the first time in a year I walked into a clothing store and bought a couple things. I usually don’t enjoy shopping much, but after a year of buying stuff online, or more often, buying nothing at all, I found myself unable to contain my smile under my mask as I walked through the doors of Zara. Just one step towards getting a normal life back.

If you had asked me a year ago what I thought going abroad would be like I would have had a drastically different mental picture. Traveling to Sweden, Norway, or Paris and back. Taking a lighter course load, spending the majority of my time with other Americans from a variety of different schools, and going out to bars and clubs. COVID has made all of that impossible. Travel is only possible inside the country of Denmark, bars and clubs are closed for the foreseeable future, and there are only two other American girls in the DIS program who are actually in Copenhagen. While COVID closed the door on what I thought my abroad experience would look like, it has opened some other doors. I live with thirty other Danish students who have become my friends and family for the time being. It is a natural inclination to stick by other Americans when abroad because in some ways it is easier to stick with what you know. But since that is no longer an option, I have been forced to bridge cultural gaps and become friends with other Danes, which has actually been really fun and helped me gain a greater understanding of Danish culture. In the absence of the social spaces like bars and clubs that youth would usually gravitate towards, everyone, myself included, has had to find other social outlets. I now play soccer three times a week with a group of 25 Danes. I have played soccer all my life, but hadn’t touched a ball in three years up until three weeks ago. The joy of simply playing soccer a couple times a week with friends is something I surely would have taken for granted a year ago, but today seems like a luxury. Any travel I do is entirely domestic. I have been north to Hundested and Gilleje in Northern Zealand, and next week will be heading south to M√łns Klint. Having more time in Denmark has allowed me to take the language much more seriously than I think I otherwise would have. Having Danish family I have always felt that I should one day learn the language so that I can better communicate with my grandparents and cousins. I have put a lot of my energy into learning the language and am actually able to now understand some things I hear in passing.

I think everyone has had doors shut on them this past year. Plane tickets never used, experiences postponed, expectations unmet. Everyone has struggled and pivoted and tried to find a way to lead a life that is both fulfilling and COVID compatible. I’m not writing this to compare what I thought my abroad experience would be a year ago, to the reality of it today, but rather to reflect that although both experiences are very different, they both have value. And I think that one thing I have learned in the past year is to not try to compare what is to what should have been, but rather recognise and find value in what is.