I recently had the amazing opportunity to spend a semester studying in Ireland at the University College Dublin. I have always had a passion for traveling, so the prospect of living in a new culture was extremely appealing and exciting for me.
Immediately upon my arrival in Ireland, I fell in love with the country. However, only a few weeks in, the outbreak in Wuhan began. I study animal science and have a great interest in virology as well, so I followed the coronavirus pandemic quite closely from the beginning.
By February, I had a gut feeling that my time abroad was going to be cut short. I had friends in Italy being sent home, and the thought of having to leave Ireland prior to my set date in May broke my heart. But, I was determined not to let it ruin my experience. Since at the time, there were still no known cases on the island, I decided to see as much of Ireland as possible. I visited small towns and saw as much of the countryside as I could. Each mini trip would end with the thought that it could be my last.
Not only was I concerned about missing out on Irish experiences by being sent home early, I was also worried about how it would affect my studies. Many of the courses I was enrolled in were prerequisites to classes I need to take next semester, so if my study abroad program got cancelled, what would happen to my transfer credits?
When spring break arrived, my college in Dublin announced that they were moving classes online for safety precautions, and my home university in Iowa did the same. While many of my colleagues from Iowa were upset and complained, I saw this as a huge relief. This blessing would allow me to finish my classes, even if I was required to travel home back to the states. Once that concern was secured, it was back to feeling the inevitable looming end of my time in Ireland. And one morning, that time came. I woke up to the email requiring me to travel home as Ireland had a quick rising of cases.
In less than 48 hours, I had to pack my Dublin life up and be at the airport heading back to the US. The whole time was a blur as I had to accept that I would be in a different time zone from my new friends and professors as my classes began again after break. The only thing I do remember is my last time in Dublin city center. Normally packed with people and buzzing with business, it was nearly empty and almost every one of the shops, restaurants, and pubs were closed. I had never seen this city I grew to love so barren and lifeless. Ireland had quickly gone from feeling safe with less than ten cases to being shut down and crazed with not knowing how bad it would get before it started to become better. It quickly became just as affected as every other European country with travel ultimately leading to easy spread of the virus.
This pandemic completely altered an entire semester for every study abroad student. We are facing the reality of every other US citizen with classes online, events cancelled, life quarantined, and cities closed. But with that, we also are facing the loss of experience with new cultures, new friends, new countries, and most importantly, new perspectives on ourselves.
Traveling alone with study abroad programs gives students a chance to go out on a limb and discover pieces of themselves that they never knew they had, and the effects of the coronavirus has left that discovery shortened from what it could have been. There is so much I still had to learn about Ireland and myself, and hopefully, one day, I will have the chance to go back again and discover these things.
About the Author: Jayna Farrell
Jayna Farrell is a third year student studying Animal Science and Global Resource Systems at Iowa State University. In the future, she hopes to study at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and specialize in companion animal clinical care. Currently, Jayna works in Iowa State’s Program for Women in Science and Engineering as a teaching assistant for a leadership studies course geared towards first year women in STEM.