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Student Series: Studying Abroad During a Pandemic    

Student Series: Studying Abroad During a Pandemic

Art by FISK

By Molly Jones

Studying abroad during a pandemic has been quite the experience so far. Every single day I ask myself, “how is this real life” because it is insane to me that I can be in Italy right now. I am so beyond grateful and happy that the University of South Carolina and Florence University of the Arts still allowed students to study abroad because most schools canceled their programs altogether. While there are many restrictions due to Covid, my friends and I have been making the most of our time. 

One of the best parts about studying abroad right now is the excitement all of the local Italians have shown us since they haven’t had visitors in a long time. Since there aren’t any tourists besides the few American students, we get the luxury of experiencing Florence similarly to how the locals live. We get fresh groceries almost every day, go on scenic walks to get coffee, are always on the lookout for new panini shops, and constantly observe how Italians have been making the most of their time during this pandemic. One of my favorite things to do is walk or run along the Arno River and just enjoy the breeze and views. It is the most beautiful city I have ever seen, so I try to take my time on my walks to truly appreciate all of its beauty. 

This is my first time in Europe, so there has definitely been some culture shock, but not in a way that has negatively taken a toll on me. It has been nice to learn how to slow down and appreciate the little things. In the past, not having a strict routine or schedule would’ve really stressed me out, but I am very happy. The slower environment has only made me enjoy my time here even more. While there have been days that I have more food guilt than others or days where I do not feel as comfortable in my body, I remind myself that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I do not want to have any regrets about anything once it is over. I try to focus more on the people I’m surrounding myself with who care more about me as a person rather than worry so much about how I look. Of course, that is easier said than done, but it is something I am constantly working on. 

I would be lying if I said I was not nervous going into this experience because of being so far from home, not having the same type of food, not having a similar routine, and not knowing how much we would be able to do in Italy. However, most of those worries went away as soon as I got here. Since I have never been to Italy or Europe, I have no idea what I am missing out on if times were “normal.” The only worries that did not disappear immediately were the ones related to food and my daily routine. 

Something I have been working on for over a year now is healing my relationship with food. Food used to be something I really struggled with. Once quarantine hit last year, I have made an effort ever since to learn how to honor my cravings, stop restricting myself from the food I love, learn how to listen to what my body needs and/or wants, exercise as a way to show love for myself rather than punish myself, and accept my changing body. I am so happy that I had been working on all of that before going abroad because I know that if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to fully immerse myself in the culture and wouldn’t have enjoyed myself as much. Learning to stray away from a stricter daily routine has been the biggest challenge, but I know that it is the exact challenge I needed to continue my journey of healing my relationship with food and my body. 

Due to the pandemic, planning ahead for anything right now is not possible just because everything changes so fast. One moment we are allowed to shop at Zara and get food from anywhere, and the next moment we are stuck in our apartment for weeks and only allowed to go outside for essential things. Of course, it is frustrating at times when I look at social media and see how the U.S. is opening things up, while more things just keep getting shut down here, but I have been trying to look on the bright side as much as I can. I am in freakin’ Italy, and this is an amazing time that I will look back on forever. It may not be exactly the experience everyone dreams of having while studying abroad, but it’s my experience, and I am so lucky to be here. 

I hope one day I can look back on this experience and remember the new friends I made, the way the Italians welcomed us in, the fact that I got to see Florence in a whole new light, and how all of this was still possible even during a pandemic. 

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