Being a Student Stranded Abroad Was Terrifying But Made Me Face My Fears

On January 6, 2020 I flew to Barcelona, Spain from Chicago, Illinois. I made my way across the ocean to embark on what I thought would be the adventure of a lifetime: abroad. I was excited, optimistic for the future, and thrilled to see what exactly this great big world had to offer. My friends and I had planned many excursions: Amsterdam, Lisbon and skiing in France to name a few. I was excited for my future: a young student with the world as her oyster.

And then the end of the world came.

I was excited for my future studying abroad until the pandemic put a dramatic stop to my plans. (A Brown)

In March I was shocked when the US borders were closed

On March 11th, at 2AM local time in Barcelona, the President announced he was closing the United States to Europeans. Shock. Fear. Every emotion you could imagine flooded my brain. But the most overwhelming one was fear. I had 24 hours to move out of my two month home and somehow manage to get on a plane. We had to move fast.

I called my mom in a panic and asked her to book me a flight. My best friend who was visiting me for spring break, rapidly began packing her bags. But I was blind with fear. She encouraged me to get going so we packed our Airbnb and left for my apartment 20 minutes later. I arrived at the airports to a mad dash of American abroad students panicking and packing: at 3:30 in the morning. Everyone was fearful of not being accepted back home.

People were drunk, flustered, crying and terrified of getting rejected by our home country. It was not announced until 2 or 3 hours later that the ban did not apply to American citizens, but by that point it was too late. By 5AM Barcelona time there were thousands upon thousands of Americans; mostly students who had been abroad, at the Barcelona airport. We were from all walks of life, bonded only by our nationality. There was an odd sense of community in a foreign land.

Students formed a community of stranded travelers

Students were taking turns staying awake to protect each others belongings from pickpockets and thieves. The airport did not have nearly enough staff to meet the needs of thousands of people. But we were all together, bonded by fear and trying to achieve a common goal – getting home safely.

It was the most wretched 24 hours of my life. I went about 48 hours without sleep or food and finally arrived back into my mom’s arms, sobbing like a child. It was absolutely terrifying to feel abandoned in this big world. All I wanted was the love of my family and friends back home.

I have always lived my life according to “Yes Theory.” If we say yes to more opportunities coming our way, life will be more fruitful for us. Expanding my world perspective has always been a dream of mine. Since my first job at 16, I have been saving for my big trip to Europe. My parents have always reminded me that I should work hard and earn what I want in life.

But part of me has always been blinded by the fear of what other people think. Growing up in the technology era, perception is everything. But I always thought if I could appear to have it together, I would be better off. But who can be totally together all the time? Nobody. Especially when it came to the end of the world.

In 2020 I learned that I need to live with less fear

The lesson I have learned in 2020, for better or for worse, is to live life with less fear. During one of my weekend trips to Switzerland, I faced my biggest fear: heights. My good friend and I decided to spontaneously book a paragliding excursion off of one of the highest peaks in the Swiss alps. Absolutely terrifying to any rational human.

But something urged me to do it, and to face my fear. So, I took off running down a ski slope with a middle-aged French guy connected to my back to do it. The parachute gained air behind us and soon enough, we were airborne; looking down at the skiers waving below. It was peaceful, beautiful, and one of the most cherished memories I will keep forever.

A lot of us chose not to face our fears because its scary. Which I understand. But if we never face our fears in life, what does life offer us? I urge you to approach the future with empathy for others, and with a little more love. Whether that is treating your grocery store clerk with a smile, hugging your mom a little extra tight, or reminding those who you love that you love them.

I have received so much love this year that my young adult self is scrambling to sort it all out. From a psychology major, that is all we can ask for in these unprecedented times. More love, and less fear.

You Might Also Want to Read:

Eleven Ways the Pandemic Might Have Changed College Forever

Audrey Brown is a senior at the University of Michigan studying psychology. On a typical Saturday, you would find her cheering on the Michigan Wolverines or playing euchre with friends. She hopes to attend law school one day.

About Audrey Brown

Audrey Brown is a 21- year old Psychology major at the University of Michigan. She enjoys meeting new people, living in the present, and enjoying all that life has to offer. She is interested in Human Resources and People and Talent Strategy. On a typical Saturday, you would probably find her cheering on the Michigan Wolverines in the Big House or playing euchre with friends. In January, she began her studies at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain and spent three months researching Human Resource Management and business basics. In April, she worked at Trader Joes grocery store in Park Ridge, Illinois; helping contribute to the emergency effort as she already had COVID-19 antibodies. She loves singing, traveling and her Bernese Mountain dog, Libby.

Read more posts by Audrey

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.