COVID-19 Cancelled my Study Abroad… and I’m Not Mad?

Photo by Eman Alami (2018)

Starting in January, I began thinking about making the most of my senior year at UCLA. Out of all the things to do as an undergraduate, my dream is to complete a thirty-page art historical research paper in French before I graduate. This is something I had always anticipated since the day I transferred to the university.

I took the chance of applying to a six-month study abroad program which provided an internship, mandatory research, and classwork in either Pairs or Brussels. I didn’t care which city I was destined to be in 2021. As far as I’m concerned any city can give me a unique cultural experience, French fluency, a resume boost, network growth, and content for my graduate school applications.

The three-step application process was going well, I had gotten approval on two of three forms (the third was due in October) by administrators at UCLA and the University of California office in Sacramento. I met the 3.0 GPA requirement too. There was nothing about my academic path that couldn’t prove that I wasn’t qualified.

I followed the news reports with confidence that I’ll be in Europe in 2021 because I saw nothing but positivity in France like the European Union opening its borders, the Louvre reopening, and seeing my Parisian friends going out to bars and cafes. I didn’t quite think that Europe’s restrictions on travel would apply to me in 2021. What can I say, I’m an optimist.

Photo by Eman Alami (2018)

Next thing I know, I was unprepared to receive an email from the vice-president, Vivian-Lee Nyitray of the study abroad programs of all the University of California:

“The likelihood of borders remaining closed and potential quarantine requirements has led UCEAP to make the difficult decision to suspend your program; unfortunately, your program will not run.”

My eyes watered my face for fifteen minutes. My mind cast a thick blurring cloud of doubt. “I am going to graduate in a few months from a research-based university without any research experience.” “When will I ever have the opportunity to go to the City of Lights to work and learn, if not now?” “How does the university know that COVID-19 will last until late January of 2021?”

The turbulence in my head proved to be temporary, something in me managed to flip the switch and think about my six months in quarantine.

The work I did to prep for the program in the first place, I took French coaching sessions, where I learned with Françoise from Congo, where I learned about her culture. I learned how to budget and opened a savings account (SERIOUS ADULTING). I read French history books on early colonialism and spoke to my art history professor for hours on my research proposal. I did everything in my power to discipline myself for a dream that never happened.

I will not let an epidemic invalidate how far I’ve gotten in life. It’s about the journey — not studying abroad due to an epidemic is just a lost opportunity.
The coronavirus has affected many different aspects of people’s lives globally. The opportunities for many to shine were canceled, like the countless cinematic releases, internships, runway shows, art exhibitions, and more that didn’t happen in 2020. It does not make any of those people less talented.

However, I know that I (like so many others) have a lot to offer to the world. It’s only a matter of time where we can go back to the world as we used to know.

This is all another chance to restructure my plans to reach my wildest dreams.




Freelance Fashion, Lifestyle and Culture Writer. Featured in Mess Magazine, PopSugar, College Magazine and counting. Check out my Instagram @emanalami for more!

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Eman Alami

Eman Alami

Freelance Fashion, Lifestyle and Culture Writer. Featured in Mess Magazine, PopSugar, College Magazine and counting. Check out my Instagram @emanalami for more!

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