Due to COVID-19, all Colgate students who were studying abroad in spring 2020 had their programs suspended. This retrospective allows the participants to look back and reflect upon that time, their experiences, and their ability to overcome adversity.

Major: Peace and Conflict Studies/International Relations
Spring 2020 Geneva Study Group

As part of the Geneva Study Group, I had an internship with Arigatou International, an international NGO dedicated to the promotion and protection of children’s rights. Our office was located near the United Nations, and I had an amazing view of the rows of international flags that line the entrance to the UN and the Broken Chair sculpture. Just a few days before we learned our program had to return home, when things were starting to close down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our office decided to work remotely, and I had the first of many virtual meetings.

Pictured here are the views from Arigatou International’s Geneva office and the view from my housing in Geneva, where I had my first remote meeting.

Major: Psychology
Spring 2020 Wales Study Group

I think this photo perfectly captures how blissfully unaware I was about the implications of COVID-19 on my study abroad experience. This was taken in Copenhagen, Denmark, just a week before we were informed that we were being sent home. As evident in the picture, my friends and I felt like we had the world at our fingertips. COVID-19 seemed like a million miles away and, hearing from our families in the United States, it seemed like we were safer in Europe. Just two days after returning to Wales from Copenhagen, where multiple locals assured us, “we don’t have COVID in Denmark!”, Denmark closed its borders due to escalating cases. A few days later, Trump made his decisions on banning international travel and, a few days after that, I was home. Although this was an almost traumatic experience at the time, filled with so much anxiety, looking back at this picture makes me grateful for how quickly things escalated. My friends and I were traveling and having the time of our lives up until the very last second, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Director of the Spring 2020 London History Study Group

In this picture from last spring, the history group gathers in front of Salisbury Cathedral. It was a wonderful trip, including a well-guided tour of the building’s guts, and it turned out to be the last outing as a group before the pandemic took us home. It was bittersweet to learn a few weeks ago that the floor of the cathedral has been turned into a mass vaccination site. We trust that this novel use of the place will allow us to return there in the not-distant future.

Major: Biology
Minor: Educational Studies
Spring 2020 Syracuse University Approved Program in Florence, Italy

In January 2020, I embarked on my long journey from home to Florence, Italy: 36 hours of travel, 11 hours of jet lag, two red-eyes in a row, and one lost bag (thankfully was found). After landing in Florence, I was greeted by my two host parents (Lucia and Riccardo), my roommate (also named Emma), and my two new host siblings (actually host dogs), Aldo and Cleo. My host family was my favorite part of my entire experience in Florence, and I still stay in touch with them today. Unfortunately, after only seven weeks, our program was cut short, and I abruptly had to leave Florence, my host family, and all my friends. We were one of the first programs to be sent home at the end of February, and in the moment, it did not feel real. This photo is of my first trip out of Florence to Lucca. 

Major: History and English
London History Study Group with Prof. Andrew Rotter

This photo was taken on my last day in London, March 17, 2020, after the cancellation of all study groups on March 14. I took a walk down the Strand to look at the River Thames and a few of the bridges for the last time. It was surreal to see the usually crowded area almost completely empty. Everything in London was closed by then. A few hours later, I struck up a conversation with a man at a pharmacy. He was a Greek immigrant and worked as a freelancer. He was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to support himself without work if the pandemic lasted more than a month and was thinking of returning to Greece. I will never forget that conversation because it was the last normal interaction I had with a stranger before face masks and social distancing became the norm. I naively speculated that the pandemic wouldn’t last more than few months. Neither of us knew just how bad it would get and the impact it would have on the world.

Major: Political Science
Spring 2020 Japan Study Group

Last spring was a mixed bag to put it lightly. It was a great hardship, having our wings clipped so soon after we’d arrived in Kyoto. Nonetheless, the friendships have endured and grown, and, if there’s any silver lining to our unfortunate circumstances, the stark contrast between our brief journey through a new, fascinating society and our continued period of stasis has spawned a newfound appreciation for travel and exploration in us all. I remember watching the clouds consume Japan and knowing with certainty, “I’ll be back” — because I, we, had unfinished business. More culture to absorb; more meals to relish; more new things to see and last trains of the night to catch, in that pursuit of freedom young people so relentlessly crave. Entering this prolonged test in resilience would’ve proven all the more challenging, had we not been already bound by high spirits and camaraderie. Transitioning from Japan to a New York City that’d been paralyzed overnight was heartbreaking; but I returned with an assurance, born out of the weeks immediately preceding our unceremonious farewell, that when confronted with seemingly hopeless conditions, humanity will shine brightly and ultimately prevail.