When students consider what they will miss out on by choosing to study abroad, they of course think of time spent with family and friends, and then perhaps opportunities at their home institution. Still, the experiences students stand to gain by spending a semester overseas outweigh these things more often than not. For this reason, it doesn’t often sink in that perhaps a significant moment, such as this year’s U.S. election results, could arrive while students are in the “abroad bubble.” This week, our ADALife bloggers chose to reflect on how they’ve learned to manage dealing with crisis, both personal and political, while away from home. Read on to hear from Caroline, Tiffany, Anne-Katherine and Annabelle.
Caroline Violante: Music, Furman University SC
Each person deals with conflict differently. Some of the more confrontational people will tackle the problem head-on, or devise some sort of plan to fix the issue. Some react emotionally and open themselves up to those around them. And others, like myself, choose to ignore all problems until they burst one seemingly insignificant day. And I can only hope that I’m around close friends and family the day my bottle of emotions bursts open. But what happens when you’re not? What happens when an incredibly significant event occurs, and you’re thousands of miles away from home? What then?
November 9th, we lived in the aftermath of a presidential election for our country while in a foreign one, a defining moment of the United States for the next four years—and possibly more. And because the results went against the majority-liberal art academy, people were forced to face the reality of a presidency driven by fear and hatred. Mind you, this is not a political-thought piece; I claim no expertise on this matter. What I share is simply the raw reaction of the morning after. The groups huddled around computers and phones watching the events unravel, a handful of people openly crying, a few on the phone trying to get ahold of family, the blank expressions on so many. Everyone single person, though, grappling with how to deal with this. How do I deal with this? Me, who jokes around to avoid addressing true issues and distracts myself with schoolwork until I can open up with select people, the people who at this moment are six hours behind me and 4,878 miles away. What can I do? With nowhere to hide, there’s nothing else to do but be open. Be vulnerable. Share with these people, some of whom you might have known for many years and others you just met two months ago. Pray if you believe. Cry if you need. Call someone if you want, but choose to be raw with those around you.
The world continues to move forward, even while we’re in our small bubble of a travel abroad experience. Abroad trips sometimes are placed on a pedestal, with perfectly captured Instagrams and labels of ‘the-best-semester-of-my-life.’ And while these things might be true, these three months aren’t hidden from reality, and we must actively decide to be open with others around us to make this seemingly random, eclectic group of people a community.
Tiffany Wei: Music, Furman University SC
Many of my friends and peers who have been on the Italy trip before gave me lots of good advice when before I left. On what to pack, on what music to bring, etc. They gave me one particular piece of advice I had forgotten until this past week. Just because our study away is a dream semester with trips and shows doesn’t mean that life at Furman doesn’t stop moving. We’re going to go back in a couple of weeks and new freshman have settled in, new relationships pop up, and things are not 100% the way we left them. Being here in Italy has been a dream, but I have to face the reality that life isn’t static but rather dynamic and moves in directions we would have never dreamed.
Although I will say that being in Europe for the results of the election has been very enlightening for a political science major as myself, I do wish I was at home to show my support for freedom, democracy, and all the true American ideals. Yet at the same time I am glad I am here because I realize that we don’t live in a bubble, but rather, our actions affect everyone everywhere, even if we don’t immediately see it. Because of social media, news, and the internet we are not really missing news, but missing the people we share the news with and that’s what makes all the difference.
Even though I am not with my friends or family, I’m with the Accademia family, who bonded in different ways on Wednesday. When the election results finalized on Wednesday, I will never forget the way both music and theater students hunched over the results, hugging and consoling each other. That morning, I was encouraged by the amount of love and sense of community shown in a time of distress, and that feeling is what makes all the negative ones go away.
Anne-Katherine Stiekes: Music, Furman University SC
When I first considered studying abroad for a semester, I planned on being isolated from friends and family for a while in order to have some time away from my campus for self-evaluation and to gain some perspective. There is no doubt in my mind that studying in Italy for a semester is one of the best decisions I have made for my college career, but there really is no way to prepare for what it feels like to be away from your culture experiencing this isolation on a day-to-day basis until you’re here. How do you deal with being away from friends and family when something as important as a presidential election is going on back home? A couple things stand out that have helped me stay in touch this semester with what’s important, while also not becoming so bogged down with what’s happening that I can’t focus on my work here. First, I try to set aside time to talk to a close friend or family member each day leading up to and after an event. This doesn’t necessarily mean I find time to have a long phone conversation with someone in the middle of a busy school day and deal with the time difference; staying in touch can be as simple as dropping a text and asking a question or sending a short note of encouragement. This helps me feel like I’m still in touch with what’s going on first-hand, even though I’m thousands of miles away. Conversely, I try to focus on others who are here. Because keeping up with everyone back home is important to me, but it helps to remember that even though I’m studying out of my country, there is quite a bit of my culture here at the ADA, since we’re all American students. It’s easy to call home and hear opinions on what’s going on and how to process it, but there are also opinions and views to hear right where I am. Taking some time to stay in touch both at home and here helps me have enough perspective on what’s going without keeping me from becoming so distracted that I can’t focus on my work. This way, I can look back at this semester as having gained the time for self-evaluation that comes from being isolated here, while also not feeling that I missed out entirely on a whole semester of events back home.
Annabelle Martin: Music, Furman University SC
It is difficult to describe the feeling of being far away from home when change takes place. Last week’s election was a difficult pill to swallow for many. It was incredibly difficult to watch from another country as people began to demonstrate peacefully, riot, and fall into bickering amongst themselves. You can really only trust second hand accounts, and for me personally, I felt completely hopeless watching from afar. My grandmother, always an advocate for civil rights, sent me a message that said: “The fight for equality falls to you. My generation has lost. Be strong, Annabelle.” Those words broke my heart.
Earlier in the semester at the Accademia, I’d had the opportunity to meet a guest professor from the University of Barcelona who was teaching the theatre students. His name was Leo, and as we sat down and started talking, I realized that I had never become actively involved in a cause that held my ideals. Right before I’d left, I’d participated in a benefit concert for Syrian child refugees, which raised about 2,000 dollars. It was incredible, but I really felt like I couldn’t take credit, because I had just jumped on the bandwagon. While I had leant my voice to this particular cause, I’d never been someone who protested or encouraged conversation about the things I believe in. I can remember hearing several times in America that “the outcome of this election doesn’t matter” and that “the position of President is just a figurehead” and mumbling my disagreement. Now I feel like so many people, myself included, are waking up to realize that the position of president definitely does matter, and seeing the extent to which it will affect our country. And I really regret not doing anything more than mumbling and shuffling my feet. That sentiment is something that had been ringing around in my head since that conversation.
“Armchair activism” is what I feel as though I was doing. And it really and truly is hard to know how to start getting out of that armchair, and to find the courage to do so. I am not the kind of person that feels as though it’s acceptable to stop trying and hoping, even though it’s completely understandable why so many have lost hope this week. I was wishing that I could be one of the peaceful protestors back at home, to see if I could make up for something. More than anything, I wanted a way to show the demographic I knew that was hurting that I stood by them. I wanted to show solidarity for my friends who fall into the LGBTQ community, and who are immigrants, and of different races and religions. It’s easy to let yourself fall into the background when you’re not someone who falls into that category. It felt like a blessing when I heard the news that there would be a vigil hosted outside the US Consulate in Florence. This vigil wasn’t a protest, but a showing of love. It was a “bring your own candle” type of event. It was cathartic to meet people from all over the United States who felt the same way I did, even all the way from Italy. I went with several other Accademia students, and really felt that my community was continuing to support me, as well as that I was supporting others. I met people of all ages, but just taking the time to listen gave me ideas about what I could do when I return home in two weeks.
I think the first step is showing up, and giving your support. The second step is to listen, and see if you can learn. The third step is to see what you can begin, and to take risks. After meeting some activists and educators, I’ve decided to see what I can do in my Furman community to see if I can bring someone from the organization I’ve met to speak at Furman. I want to get more involved with teaching people about Islam, and poverty, and the obstacles facing people. It starts with educating people, and understanding the consequences of your actions, and seeing what you can do yourself to start change in your own home. By going to this vigil, I feel like I regained my sense of direction, and renewed my hope. It may be a long shot, but I know that I can at least try, and put my energy and this sense of helplessness into something constructive and compassionate. My friend Izabel wrote this quote down from the vigil, and I think it’s something anyone can find to be universally true: “One of the truest signs of maturity is the ability to disagree with someone while still remaining respectful.” Learning to do this will be hard, but starting a conversation and educating yourself is something I’ve learned is truly necessary over the past weeks. It starts at home, with who you elect to the school board, the funding you give your teachers, and what you teach your children. I know that I am someone who is privileged and blessed, and I feel like watching from home allowed me to realize what a constructive voice that gave me. I’m never going to forget what it felt like to just watch, and now I’m not going to forget what it means to just do.