The importance of studying abroad told through misadventures

Photo courtesy of Ramapo College, Flickr.

Since I started attending Ramapo, I became invested in pursuing one of the college’s study abroad programs. In 2019, I participated in a spring break global field experience with the Honors program to Nepal. That inspired me to sign up for a full semester program, which landed me in Athens, Greece for the 2020 spring semester, my sophomore year of college. 

I left Jan. 3, said goodbye to my friends and family and embarked on the biggest adventure of my life thus far. A 14-hour plane ride brought me to what might as well have been an alien planet. I knew no one, could not read the signs and had little plans beyond the “getting there” portion of my travels. 

But the daunting nature of this adventure quickly became surmountable as I realized that most of the student body were study abroad students from around the U.S., just like me. Fast friendships were formed and travel plans quickly created.  

The study abroad experience gave me the time to immerse myself in the culture of Greece, becoming friends with the locals and traveling all over southern Greece. Seeing the ruins of the Oracle of Delphi, or the crumbling structures of the Temple of Poseidon had me in awe of the ancient history that surrounded me. By connecting with the history of Greece, I felt more grounded in the present.  

I was also able to travel to other countries during my time in Greece. My roommates and I would gather around the kitchen table at night and look at google maps for the cheapest flights for the following month. I started my intercountry travels in Switzerland. Sledding in the alps and drinking hot chocolate and eating schnitzel at the top of one of the mountains was an experience I treasure. Getting to keep some of the Swiss Francs and taking pictures all over the country help bring me back to one of my favorite countries I visited.  

I also traveled to Germany, Israel and Romania. I have ancestral roots in each of the countries I visited, so it was a humbling experience to travel the same streets. Each country had its own share of adventures and indelible memories I will never forget.  My classes were only on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I was able to travel to these other countries with ease.  

I began planning my trip to Italy and the Greek islands for April, but it was not meant to be.

In early March, the school began hearing rumors about a virus in China that was spreading rapidly. We laughed as a student body and I went to Romania without a second thought. When I returned, COVID-19 was beginning to lock down Asian countries entirely and was quickly expanding westward.  One of my roommates got an inconclusive Covid test at 2 a.m. and I was told I had 15 minutes to pack my necessary belongings for quarantine housing. 

I was shuffled into a white, windowless van and placed inside quarantine housing in a different part of Athens. For 10 days, I was restricted to a 10 by 10 room with brief excursions to the bathroom or kitchen for school-supplied food. On Thursday, March 19 we were emailed by the school that Athens airport would be closed Saturday afternoon and all flights would be grounded after then. I called the Ramapo study abroad team, and within two hours had a flight out of Greece for the next day. I was coming home.

Now, I am president of the Global Roadrunners, the study abroad outreach club on campus. I try to give back to the program that enabled me to have such an amazing experience.

While I only had two and a half months of time in Greece, that shaped my worldview and who I am as a person. It is an experience I will never forget and would not change for anything.