When I first heard about the strange new virus in China, I had no idea it would erupt into a global pandemic that has affected nearly every human life on the globe. On a smaller scale, I had no idea it would feel like this.
This is not the spring break I pictured.
A deciding factor in my decision to attend George Washington University was the Paris Seminar–titled Globalization and the Media–for journalism students. In April 2018, I put my deposit down on GW, a university on the lower end of my list, knowing that I would take this class my sophomore year of college, pending I gained acceptance into the program.
The university only offers the class in the spring semester, as the trip takes place during spring break. Students in the seminar meet once a week for class, leading up to the trip, but the main attraction is the week spent studying in Paris, France. A petit hotel on the Rue Cler hosts students. The hotel sits near the American University of Paris, which hosts the lectures from renowned global media icons and authors, from Le Monde to Harper’s Bazaar. When not in class, students explore Paris, attend cabarets and river cruises and reflect upon globalization’s impact on a changing media landscape.
What class could be more perfect for me, a journalism and mass communications major and a French minor?
In January, I first caught wind of the virus, which made its way out of the Wuhan Provence of China. This all seemed so far away; the gravity of the virus was not tangible. I saw memes about the virus on social media and read stories about those affected thousands of miles away from my bubble in Washington, D.C., but I lacked worry. In my mind, the ailment was far away and had no bearing on my life.
Come February: the first death reported outside of China. The cases outside of China had multiplied and deaths were well above the 100 mark. And on Valentine’s Day, my first time spending the holiday with my boyfriend–a day that should have been free of reservations–France announced the first virus-related death in Europe. I think this was the first time I questioned my ability to make it to Paris. In late February, Italy and Iran saw a surge in cases.
The Louvre closed its doors.
Once the virus made its way to Italy, the discussion reached my Paris Seminar classroom: would the trip be canceled? My classmates, some of the brightest media fiends at GW, raised worrisome points: infected travelers from Italy could have easily traveled to France, better to be safe than sorry, the virus could only get worse once we arrived…and then what would happen? All the while, our professor kept a brave façade of optimism.
The university released no word on the program, set to commence on March 14 (my flight was scheduled for March 12). It felt as if university officials ignored us and only focused on pulling the students in severely impacted countries home when it was too late. The uncertainty kept me up at night.
On February 26, we received an email telling us to “be prepared for an evolving situation.” What did that mean? The wordy note gave no novel information.
Over a week later, on March 5, a week before my departure for Paris, the trip as well as all other university-related travel was canceled.
I mourned the loss of this trip with my classmates.
I felt lost opportunity sting every time I walked into French class, did French homework, hung out with my best friend who was taking the trip with me or read my media and globalization book.
I had traveled to Paris once before for my end of high school celebration. My mother and I spent a week traversing the Trocadero, tasting all of the pastries the boulangeries had to offer and watching the Eiffel Tower twinkle at night. I was not moping over the lost time at tourist attractions. No, I mourned the inability to learn in a French University, to experience college in a different culture. I grieved the loss of an idealized experience I had patiently waited for years.
The loss of the Paris trip was not all, though. In that week leading up to spring break, the University moved classes online for two weeks following spring break. And a few days ago, classes went online for the entirety of the semester.
My immediate thought became that I would not spend the cherry blossom season in the District. That snowballed into the loss of my sorority formal, my boyfriend’s fraternity formal, my dorm (which I had left as if I would return in only three weeks), and my friends who I would not see.
Now I feel the gravity of this virus.
Now I have had time to process. Before I did not understand what the country-wide lockdown and limited movement in China meant; now I know it all too well. My losses as a result of COVID-19 are minuscule in comparison to hundreds of thousands of others. Yes, the virus stole half of my sophomore year. But, I am healthy and safe, on day seven of sheltering in place.
So as I leave you, reader, I have one piece of advice: Once we come out of this and begin to heal, do not take moments for granted. Take this time to read, stay in contact with your friends, advance your yoga skills, bake or essentially anything your heart desires that will absolve your mind of worries of this pandemic. Check-in on your friends. Be present with your families.
And when we open our doors again, seize every opportunity and never take the outside world for granted. I will spend next spring studying abroad, hopefully in Paris, and I know that I will take no moment of that for granted.