It’s hard to believe everything happened a year ago.
It had always been my dream to travel outside of the country, but it was too expensive. But when I earned a scholarship that would completely pay for my study abroad semester, I cried from happiness.
In January 2020, I left the United States for the first time in my life. I was going to stay in Montpellier, France, right on the Mediterranean Sea, for five months. But the trip of my life, the experience I had planned for months, didn’t last.
In a span of six days in the middle of March, everything changed in a rush.
Our last day of classes was on Friday since President of France Emmanuel Macron closed all schools, including universities, across the country. But we were all hoping school would be back in session in a few weeks—we were fooling ourselves.
At first, I had been told that I could stay in France if I felt comfortable with that option. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to France if I left and school started again, so I decided to stay.
Since I was under the impression that I would quarantine in France, the two best friends I made while abroad, Jihee Son and Fifi Chiau wen Jian, didn’t say goodbye that day. That ended up being the last time I saw Jihee. We never got to say a proper goodbye to each other.
Macron closed all nonessential businesses Saturday, and on Monday night, he declared that the French borders would be closing. Minutes after that announcement, Jenny Cataldi, director of Franklin College’s office of global education, told me that I needed to get back to the U.S. as soon as possible.
After being on the phone for hours with Delta Air Lines, it was around 2 a.m. Tuesday, and my first flight was scheduled for 6 a.m. Wednesday. I had just over 24 hours to pack up the life I had created in France over the past two months.
The day that I left France was the longest of my life, both technically and metaphorically. I didn’t sleep the night before because I had to get up very early to get to the airport. And after being in the air for about 13 hours on three different flights, I finally arrived in Indiana.
Since I couldn't be around anyone because of COVID-19 concerns, I had to drive myself home in the rain, physically and emotionally exhausted, and after being awake for 36 hours straight.
Some of the most painful moments came then, after I was finally home, finally safe.
My parents stood at my mom’s car, watching as I packed my luggage into my own car. At that moment, all I wanted to do was hug my mom, but I couldn’t. I felt more alone than ever.
We stopped at Arby’s for some food, and when my dad went to hand me the bag with my food through our car windows, he jerked his hand back and said, “Don’t touch me.”
While I knew he meant it as a joke, those three little words shattered my al- ready emotionally fragile heart. I fought back tears for the entire hour as I drove home.
When I got home, I ran through the door, right past my dogs who were so ex- cited to see me, and I fell in the kitchen, where I finally let myself break.
Everything that I had been through in the past six days came to the surface, and I didn’t try to hold it back any longer.
Over the next few months, I had to recount the whole ordeal to so many people, but I would always leave out the more sensitive parts.
Once I was finally able to see my grandfather again, his favorite thing to tell me was, “You’re a history maker! How many people can say they were thrown out of a country?”
His enthusiasm helped me reflect on the experience and see that, although it was painful, it was something that was entirely unique to me.
Many people told me that I should’ve journaled my experience as it was happening, so I’ll have those memories when I start to forget. At first, I was apprehensive about writing it all down. I didn’t want to relive some of the most traumatic days of my life.
At the beginning of March 2021, I met with some family members I hadn’t seen in over a year. They asked me about the trip and the whole mess of having to come back, and once again, they told me I should've journaled the experience.
Since I hadn’t thought about it in so long, I took the suggestion more serious- ly, and that night, I started writing.
I was worried about how much would be missing because there seemed to be more that I forgot than I remembered, but the more I wrote, the more details came back to me.
A full year after one of the most distressful experiences of my life, I am coming to terms with what I went through and realized that sometimes you have to remember the painful memories to appreciate the full experience.