Posted by

by Layth Mattar | University of St. Andrews, Spring 2020

The idea of being stuck in another nation or having to leave early during a study abroad experience is something that seems to only happen in movies. At least that is what I thought before I received that recall email from the Emory Study Abroad Office, making finding a ticket home as soon as possible my new priority.

Before I begin, let me be clear. While it was extremely stressful and hectic to find a way home during a global pandemic, I was not alone. The Emory Study Abroad Office was ready and willing to help in whatever capacity was necessary, in both a supportive and fiscal manner. Their priority was student safety, and as soon as any sort of true jeopardy presented itself, they recalled students. Furthermore, my host institution, the University of St. Andrews, was ready to step in and ensure a safe journey. Both Emory and your host institution staff are there to support you through any challenges you face as part of your study abroad experience whether personal situations or major local and global crises.

Every morning and every night I would walk down this street. I look forward to the possibility of returning to St. Andrews and walking down it again.

Now, in retrospect, I should have been much more prepared for the recall to the United States. The pandemic had been ramping up, travel restrictions were being announced, and my own father had warned me that “he was pretty sure” I would be coming home soon. I suppose a part of me refused to believe it, not only because it seemed so unlikely to happen to me, but also because I was having so much fun studying abroad. So, when that email did arrive, panic and disbelief were the first things that crossed my mind.

Emory’s recall was not unique. Students and workers abroad were scrambling to find return flights, and with the consistently multiplying travel bans, booking a flight was utter chaos. I remember, just after I received Emory’s email, calling my return flight provider, Delta, about changing my ticket only to find a six-hour hold time, which proceeded to disconnect suddenly. Delta’s website was also overloaded, and all other travel services were having similar errors.

My salvation came at about four in the morning the following day, where after another unfortunate disconnection and being told that I had a six-hour hold time, an agent picked up the phone almost immediately and moved my return flight to the next morning.

The whole process was surreal. Looking back, I am certain I was in some sort of emotional overload. Not only from being forced to return home and cut my study abroad experience short, but also because I was going to have to travel during a time where COVID-19 fear was at its peak. Furthermore, having to juggle the sudden shift to online learning, and living in one time zone while taking classes in another, was only adding to the stress. A story that is all too similar to so many students now.

The biggest takeaway from my sudden departure is to really enjoy the present while you can (cliché I know, but maybe it is a cliché for a reason?). I wish I had savored my study abroad experience in Scotland more. I feel like all of us can relate, especially now, that sometimes the unthinkable really can happen, so putting things off for the future does not have the assurance it used to.