As I sit here in my seat looking out the window, soaring above the Pacific Ocean on my way home, I can’t help but to reflect on the past 9 months. Coming home and leaving my study abroad program early wasn’t part of my plan, but over the past couple of weeks it had become the plan of many of the exchange students at AUT. With the current situation with COVID-19 at home in the US, it was safer for me to stay in New Zealand, which was what I was planning to do. But with the escalating situation at home, my parents and I came to the conclusion that long term it would be safer for me to leave New Zealand now rather than later, when there could be a possibility that I wouldn’t be able to make it home for a while. That was about a week ago.
After getting off of the FaceTime call with my parents I booked a flight for today, March 29, 2020. It wasn’t until later in the week, after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the nation on Monday that New Zealand too was beginning the process of social distancing and quarantine/self isolation beginning Wednesday night that I realized how serious the situation was getting because up until that point, New Zealand had relatively low numbers of cases of COVID-19. This past week has been pretty hard and stressful for me. School was suspended for the week with uncertainty of how the semester was going to progress. I was emailing my professors trying to see if I could continue my classes with them online, emailing advisors of both AUT and SDSU about my plans for coming home and what I was trying to do about my courses. Trying to contact student accommodation to figure out how to cancel the rest of my stay, and get a partial reimbursement for the rent that I would no longer need because I was returning home. Constantly checking my flight status as more and more flights out of Auckland were being canceled due to countries trying to restrict travel. Canceling travel and accommodation plans that I had made for my mid-semester break and a last minute overnight trip before I left, being on the phone with airlines to get my flight canceled last minute due to my other modes of transportation being canceled for safety reasons. And lastly having to say goodbye to the friends that I had made both last semester and this semester, as well as packing up my things and trying to get everything that I wanted to bring home to fit into my suitcases.
Emotion wise I feel sad, but appreciative. I feel sad and disappointed because I don’t want to leave yet because I had so much more that I wanted to do and explore, but also because Auckland had come to feel like home, and my “new normal.” I had figured out my routines, made solid friendships, was enjoying the majority of my courses, and just had a settled feeling of being and living in Auckland. I am also feeling appreciative and understanding/accepting, because I know that no one could have predicted how this was going to blow up and take over like it did when it did. I feel appreciative because I was lucky enough to have had an amazing complete first semester here at AUT, because the exchange students that came this semester, particularly the exchange students from the US only had a month here before they returned home. I am also, in a way, appreciative that I am able to come home relatively easily. A couple of my flat mates from Europe decided to stay because of the risk that they could get stuck in the transfer airport location, as slowly but surely the 5 major transfer airports that they could fly through on their way to their home country were closing.
So as I am halfway through my flight back to the US, I am grateful to be able to reflect on the friendships and the incredible memories that I have made in New Zealand, and I already know I will be back sooner than later, because while it was cut short, my journey in this beautiful country is far from over. New Zealand, AUT, SDSU, Fowler College of Business, and everyone connected to my study abroad experience- Ngā mihi nui ki a koe! (many thanks to you!)