On Friday February 28th, I was sitting on the bed in a tiny Paris AirBnb, daydreaming out the sixth-story slanted window, when my friend interrupted my thoughts: “They’re getting sent home.” They were our friends studying abroad in Rome, Italy, and this led to a disheartening, foreboding question: Would we be next?
I am an Architecture and German student at UTK, and part of the Architecture curriculum is a mandatory study abroad, typically falling in the Spring semester of fourth year. For my study abroad, I was going to the Bauhaus University in Weimar, Germany. I was thrilled to have a chance to fully integrate my two majors into one course of study. I was also thrilled to study in a new setting with a cohort of other international exchange students.
German semesters are unique in that they span from March – July & September – January. So, with this extra time off in early 2020, I spent four weeks traveling through New York City, Southern Iceland, Barcelona, Paris, and Copenhagen with my good friend and fellow architecture student. We were three weeks into our travels when we heard the news from Italy, which sits adjacent to Germany.
Welcome to my—and our—new reality. A reality filled with uncertainty about what comes next. As we travelled from Paris to Copenhagen to, finally, Weimar, Germany, I lived with this thought hanging over my head like a raincloud waiting to burst. But this is not a story of fear but of embrace. We had already begun a Coronavirus Bucketlist (which mostly consisted of eating chocolates not available in the US) and decided not to waste our energy on worrying too far into the future. We embraced the minutes, hours, days left before the rain finally poured down.
It is something I—like many people of my age and privilege—have never experienced before; it is a day-by-day existence that requires perseverance, flexibility, and empathy. Closely monitoring the worsening situation in Italy and the slow-quick spread of the virus across Europe, I woke up every morning, checked my email for a notification of getting sent home, and when I didn’t find anything, I would spring out into my day filled with joy. I savored each moment—a bike ride through Copenhagen, brunch in Berlin, a run through Park an der Ilm in Weimar, and precious time spent with friends and family—old and new. And when the cloud finally broke above me, I was not upset. I simply smiled, grateful for the privilege to have the experiences I’d had up until that point.
Now, I am home with my family, settling into a routine and striving to live each day with the same gratitude I had while I was in Europe. I invite you to join me in living this way, finding gratitude, even when it is scarce to be found, each day as Spring arrives, the sun rises and sets, and God’s love is never ending.