Studying abroad in a global pandemic

I didn’t know what to expect studying abroad, but it certainly wasn’t that

If I could give one piece of advice to incoming freshman, it would be to fit studying abroad into your academic schedule.

Cora Hall stands in front of the Reichstag Building in Berlin, Germany. Photo by: Cora Hall | Editor in Chief

I never traveled much growing up, but I always had a desire to see more of the world. I would watch travel vlogs or see photos from my friends’ or grandparent’s travels, and I would just think, “Wow. I hope I can go there one day.”

It was always a hope for me. Traveling was never something I imagined I could do until I was old and retired. I don’t have the time; I don’t have the money; it’s too hard to figure out on my own. These were all excuses that ran through my head.

My advisor told me at the beginning of my sophomore year in 2018 that I could graduate a semester early, and my first thought was “oh, hell no.” I didn’t want to officially be an adult any sooner than I had to. I asked if I could fit in a semester of studying abroad and we immediately began to rearrange my schedule over the next three years. 

Last semester, on Jan. 31, those plans became a reality. After two years of planning, having three jobs the fall before to save up some money and endless hours of stress trying to get accepted to our partner university, I was finally flying to the Netherlands. I was more nervous than I had been in my whole life, but I was equally excited. My dream to travel was finally coming true. 

Moving to another country alone is incredibly daunting. I had no idea what life would be like in Utrecht. I didn’t even research the city before moving there, which, looking back, was an insane thing to do. But HU University of Applied Sciences was Ferris’ partner university with a journalism program, so it was my only option.

But any expectations I had were absolutely shattered, in a good way. Utrecht was the perfect city and the university I attended was incredible. I couldn’t have picked a better city. Life was so different there, but it was refreshing. We rode our bikes everywhere or took the bus. There were student groups on campus that held events to help us get to know the city. The first six weeks there were like a movie. 

Then, COVID-19 hit Europe. The first time in my life that I travel, a world pandemic happens. Go figure. After talking with my parents, we originally decided I should stay. The situation wasn’t bad in the Netherlands and I had friends who would help take care of me if I did get sick. But in the end, Ferris required me to return home and on March 21, I walked away from the life I had just begun to fall in love with. 

I was home in Lansing, Michigan for six weeks. It was a rough several weeks for me, I’m not going to lie. I barely got out of bed and was not motivated to continue my classes online. At the end of April, my parents and I came to the decision that I would go back. My friends there were doing fine and there were direct flights from Detroit to Amsterdam. Frankly, the COVID situation was worse in Michigan than the Netherlands. So we booked a flight, and I was on my way back.

It was the best decision I ever made. 

Life was different than before, but I got to spend two months with my friends, living in our new COVID reality. In the end, we all knew we had become closer than we would have if COVID-19 hadn’t happened. I made friends that will last a lifetime. Some of my favorite memories were sitting by the canals, drinking beer and enjoying the beautiful Dutch summer weather. 

My best friend there, Karen, and I planned a backpacking trip once borders opened in Europe and we traveled for three weeks. We hopped on trains through Germany, Italy and Switzerland. It’s hard to find the words to describe those 21 days. It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my whole life. There were times it was stressful, like realizing our friend had booked an Airbnb for the wrong weekend upon arriving in Basel, Switzerland. Or when our night train from Munich to Venice somehow got delayed by three hours en route, even though we left on time. 

But we saw all the cities we stopped in at the strangest, perhaps most opportune time we could have. Berlin and Venice were empty. We wandered the streets, exploring the cities without the regular tourist crowds. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. All I had heard about Venice before going was how crowded and dirty it was. It was one of the cleanest cities we visited, and I don’t think anyone will ever see it that empty again.

The trip itself was more expensive that I originally thought, but it’s because we couldn’t plan ahead since borders opened June 14 and we left June 29. We were able to get hostel beds for around $18-$20 a night and public transport around cities was relatively cheap. Airbnb’s were a bit more expensive, but we made up for that by buying groceries and cooking instead of eating out for every meal. 

Traveling is the most worthwhile thing you can spend your extra money on. The experiences you’ll have and the people you’ll meet are incredible.  Get out of your own backyard and go see the world, you won’t regret it.