Lizzie Johnson '21
"A semester you'll never forget."
The events of this past semester were beyond my wildest dreams when my parents dropped me off at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport on December 27, 2019. Ironically though, their final words to me when I left were the same ones they proclaimed upon my return on March 13, 2020: "This will be a semester you’ll never forget."
A semester abroad is a time many students look forward to during their time in college, and especially during their time in the BC International Studies Program. I’d heard amazing stories from friends about wonderful travels, insightful classes or internships, lifetime memories, and new friends, and hoped to share my own versions of these experiences come June. In an ambitious but not-out-of-character agenda, I’d planned on doing the Social Justice in Israel/Palestine class trip from December 27- January 6, then traveling to Jordan with some classmates January 7-10 before beginning my spring semester program in Geneva, Switzerland on January 13. The first portion of my trip were full of lessons and went off without much of a hitch -- until Iranian General Suleimani was killed, and worries mounted about a potential conflict between the US and Iran.
In hindsight, it is interesting to compare the fear and uncertainty of the week after that incident to the shock, frustration, and sadness many of my abroad classmates and I felt as we were told our program was canceled in mid March. I kept up with the increasing news about the coronavirus throughout the spring after I first heard about it in January. However, I now realize that until the beginning of March, I had subconsciously believed I would be immune to its effects. I thought we as study abroad kids would all be immune. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, I thought when I boarded the plane home; this was my semester to do this abroad thing, to experience a new place, to make memories.
Despite my disappointment being sent home, I am beyond grateful for the time I had, the memories I made, and the friendships I formed. I also know how blessed and privileged I am to have been minimally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in other ways. However, I’d be lying if there wasn’t a little voice in my head that wonders, "What if?" This experience has taught me that in some ways, we are all vulnerable; people of all nationalities, socioeconomic statuses, occupations, and social groups have been affected, in big or small ways. However, the impacts on all groups have not been and will not be equal. The virus and its various side effects have exacerbated existing inequalities and continued to shed light on systems, institutions, and programs that were not working long before a global pandemic was declared.
One of my favorite authors, Dave Hollis, recently said, "In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to." Though he used this quote to describe change in an individual's life, I think the scope of its application can be much broader too. Which parts of the pre-coronavirus reality of our society do we want to return to when life regains normalcy at some point? Which parts should be reformed? These questions are particularly interesting to me as a student with multiple potential career interests and a lot of ideas about how I’d like to see the world change post-pandemic. During a time with a lot of uncertainty, grief, and sadness, the desire to contribute to a reshaped reality in the coming months and years has provided me with some hope.
Lizzie Johnson '21