Putting perspective on a year without exchange

Moving on from the disappointment over my cancelled semester in Madrid

Some plans have had to be postponed in light of the pandemic.

Spain in early autumn is supposed to be sunny and warm. 

It’s early autumn, and instead of enjoying the beautiful Spanish weather, I’m in Kingston admiring my view of the glowing Metro sign and debating whether or not to turn the heat on at night. 

Everyone had something they were looking forward to that was swiftly cancelled or put on the backburner when COVID-19 hit Canada this past spring.In my case, the something sitting on the backburner is my semester abroad in Madrid, Spain. 

This January, after announcing her acceptance to study abroad at the University of Madrid this fall, my housemate turned to me and my other housemates and said, “Oh my god, you should take online classes and come to Madrid with me.” 

The idea of travelling abroad with friends while studying my favourite subjects on my own time excited me and made the decision to go an easy one. I was eager to be in a new, stimulating environment and to meet people from different cultures and backgrounds. Most of all, I was looking forward to making memories with my friends that would last a lifetime. 

After checking with an academic advisor that a semester in Spain wouldn’t prevent me from graduating in four years, my plan was to take three online courses while in Madrid and make up for the rest of the credits over the next two summers. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make.

Blissfully unaware of the global pandemic that was about to rock everyone’s lives, my two friends and I spent months planning weekend trips throughout Europe to Paris, Amsterdam, and Rome, daydreaming  about European nightclubs and hot days on Spanish beaches. Even after COVID-19 closed down the University and non-essential services across the country, we held out hope, as many did in the early and uncertain period of the pandemic.

Hindsight is 20/20, and if we’d known earlier this spring that our semester abroad would be cancelled within a few months, maybe we wouldn't have spent so much time looking forward to it. 

Though missing out on a semester abroad is a hard pill to swallow, in light of what others lost to the pandemic it’s something I try not to complain about. There’s always something to take away from every experience in life—even the experiences that get cancelled. 

When my trip was cancelled, it felt a little like COVID-19 itself was personally trying to sabotage my third year, and it’s possible that some self-pitying took place. However, I quickly realized that feeling down about my situation wasn’t worthwhile when so many people had lost jobs and loved ones to the pandemic—not just a trip to Europe. 

This, along with the knowledge that I’d likely be able to push my trip back to the fall of fourth year, helped with the disappointment. 

On top of letting go of the sense of loss I felt for my semester in Spain, I realized it wasn’t hard for me to find reasons to be excited about coming back to Kingston this fall. 

While it’s not as exotic or warm as Madrid, Kingston is an amazing city with plenty to do even under the current circumstances. After five months apart, I think I was more excited to see my friends again than I would have been to go to Spain.

My cancelled semester abroad allowed me to reflect on my privilege and the opportunities I didn’t think twice about before the pandemic. In the grand scheme of things, the places we planned to travel will still be there next fall, and Queen’s is a pretty great place to spend the year while we wait for the world to return to normal.

Hopefully I, and everyone else who missed out on their semesters abroad, can begin confidently looking forward to their Spain 2021. But if COVID-19 has taught us one thing as students, it’s to not take anything for granted. 


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