Travel in the Time of Covid

A view of the Rennes Opera House and the nearby carousel

Studying abroad has been a goal of mine since before I was even in college. I studied French for 4 years in high school and then chose it as one of my majors in college, and given how much time and effort I had put into learning French, I was eager to actually visit France. Even before COVID, the thought of studying abroad was exciting, but it also made me nervous. However, last Spring, just after I had been accepted to my first study abroad program, COVID-19 hit. In June, my first program was canceled and I deferred my study abroad to Spring 2021. In October, IES called me during a Zoom class and I found out my program had been cancelled again. I reapplied to the IES Nantes program that same day, and before the end of October, that program had been canceled as well. On Halloween, I applied to CIEE Rennes Liberal Arts, the program with which I am studying now. 

There were so many considerations and so much stress that went into simply finding programs that were running, applying to those programs, and waiting to hear whether they would be canceled. Deciding to travel abroad during COVID wasn’t something I took lightly, and it took a lot of careful thought before I felt comfortable with it and the implications it would have for my experience. By the time I realized that my current program was going to run and that I was actually going to get to study abroad, the whole experience felt surreal. Leaving was hard in many ways. I had the typical worries, and I knew that I would miss my friends and family back home so much. On top of that, the situation with COVID was (and is) ever-changing, and that was constantly on my mind. 

After having two COVID tests and filling out paperwork, I was finally cleared for international travel. Though I have had the opportunity to travel internationally before, I have never traveled as far as Europe. As my flight approached the Paris airport, passengers were provided with a breakfast. Eating breakfast at what was essentially, for me, 1:30 am, felt strange. I spent time in the Paris airport before boarding a short flight to Rennes. After arriving in Rennes, we took taxis to our studio apartments and then went on a walk around the neighborhood before beginning six day period of limited contact. Seeing everything at once and having so many questions was overwhelming. Because of Covid, the first week of my program orientation took place online. The first few days of the program were difficult, but things started to get better on the third day when I went to a market with a girl from my program and bought a crepe. Sitting outside and doing something that felt so essentially “French” was enjoyable, and I started to feel better. 

Now, as I begin my fourth week of the program, things are okay. On one hand, I probably chose the worst time to study abroad in recent history. Every day, I hear talk of whether or not there will be a third lockdown (no answer yet!). Many aspects of travel that I enjoy, such as eating at restaurants and visiting museums, are not yet possible. At the same time, I have found ways to enjoy what I can do. This is my first time seeing Europe, and the old architecture is amazing. Despite COVID, I have seen so many things that I never would have back home. 

The flight to Paris
I was excited to try French food and I got lunch at this street-side stand five days in a row. They had so many choices!