As I am sure you expected, I have left Austria and I am back in the United States. In fact, I have been back for a month now. During this past month I have had to do a lot of self-reflection in order to come to terms with everything. Despite putting on a brave face around my friends when I found out how quickly I had to leave, I was heartbroken. Absolutely devastated.
To give some insight, I had been obsessing over COVID-19 since February. I was checking statistics every morning and keeping my eye on the treat level in Austria like it was my job. If someone wanted to know how many cases were in Austria at that time, I would have been a worthy source. I am a hardcore realist and refused to let myself be caught off-guard by the news. Around my birthday, which is in late February, I began to suspect that we would have to return home by the end of March or the beginning of April. I could tell numbers were arriving and that was roughly when the outbreak in Italy happened. I informed my friends, but they all shrugged it off and told me to stop worrying about it and we would be fine. Then, classes got postponed one week due to fears surrounding the virus. I became highly suspicious, but tried to maintain a positive outlook. The following week, I attended my first class and immediately after it finished my phone began to blow up. CLASSES ARE GOING TO BE CANCELLED FOR UNIVERSITY STUDENTS IN AUSTRIA! That excitement of a text message kept being sprawled all over different platforms across my phone and I began preparing for the worst. I told Emily and Brett both that this meant we would have to go home. They both wanted to deny it, but I could see that they were both thinking the same thing. Without classes, what reason would we honestly have to stay? Plus, I plan to graduate next semester and I couldn’t risk anything jeopardizing that. When it became a socially acceptable time in the United States, I convinced the group that we needed to contact our study abroad coordinator. We all agreed that we would need to return to Arkansas so we would not lose credit… and most of us stuck to that. Brett, I am looking at you. It was decided that we would leave the week after and I made peace with that. However, nothing ever seems to go that smoothly for me and this time was no different.
Very. very early Thursday morning I returned home after spending the night celebrating my friend’s birthday, and that is when my study abroad trip took a turn for the worst. Messages came flooding in on the topic of the travel ban. Instantly, I ran into Emily’s room and we looked each other dead in the eye. We both knew what was about to happen and it was not good. Shaking, I called Frau Haulmark and she informed us that she was about to do the same. The ban was going to take place the following evening and we needed to be on a plane within the next 24 hours. STRESS!!!!
First, I had a meltdown. Then, I fell asleep from exhaustion. Next, I woke up just two hours later, called the embassy, and then cried some more. I had to accept that I needed to pack and get going. Instantly, we changed our flights to leaving the next morning (Friday) at 6 a.m. After that, it was roughly 11 in the morning for us and we began un-enrolling from school, deregistering with the city, and packing up our flat. It was an exhausting day, but we enjoyed our final evening by going to a buschenschank with friends for dinner. They dropped us off to catch our Flix bus at 4 a.m. and many tears fell on the drive to Vienna.
Despite the craziness of my study abroad experience, I would like to thank many people for making it a positive and wonderful experience. First, thank you Arkansas Tech University for allowing me this experience to go to Austria and study. Thank you to Uni Graz for allowing me to be a student on campus and experience the knowledge that you had to share. Thank you to Martina, I truly enjoyed your German intensive course and I am so grateful for all that you taught me. Thank you to Austria, for allowing me to live in your beautiful country. I fell in love with Graz and its culture and hope to return someday. Thank you to all of the friends I made whilst in Austria. The relationships that I have formed with many of you will continue for years to come, I am sure. Thank you to Dr. Brucker. I know I am the biggest pain in the butt sometimes, but you are the best for allowing me to come to your office and spring on you how I want to leave the country again. You helped me figure out how it would be possible, and time and time again you have been supportive of my latest endeavor. They really should give you hazard pay for having to deal with me. Thank You Frau Haulmark. You helped me so much throughout this entire process from encouraging me to apply all the way to calming me down to help me come home. I am so grateful for all that you have done for me. Finally, thank you to anyone who has taken the time to follow along with my journey throughout these blogs. I am sorry I could not provide you with wackier stories. However, it means a lot that you took the time to read over and invest in my experiences.
Lastly, if anyone is reading this and considering studying abroad: Do it. Despite how mine ended sooner than expected, I wouldn’t trade that opportunity and my memories for the world.