Returning Home: A Smith Stories “Experiences from Abroad” Reflection

Getting on the plane to abruptly leave my study abroad program in Copenhagen and arrive home in Maryland, my mind spun with the magnitude of the situation. I vacillated between wondering what this meant for the rest of my semester, and feeling the heaviness of what this meant globally.

As the Center for Disease Control welcomed me and other travelers into the states with masked faces, pertinent health questions, and thermometers in gloved hands, I was overwhelmed with both gratitude for the experience I had thus far abroad, my ability to return safely home to my family, and sadness for what I was leaving behind.

What I have realized these past few weeks social distancing at home, is that it is important to give yourself permission to grieve losses both big and small. Back at home, I looked through my itinerary and jumped into action mode; I waited on hold for hours to request refunds for my flight to Seville with my friends from elementary school, my trip to Israel to spend Passover with my family, my flight to Bergen Norway to see the beautiful fjords and hike the scenic mountains, and my travels to Vienna to visit fellow Terps. I was grieving the trips that I would not be taking as COVID-19 forced me to cancel my future plans.

As I sat there looking over my itinerary, guilt sunk in. How could I complain about this when there is a pandemic overwhelming the globe? I was healthy. My family was healthy. We were home safe. But yet, I was still sad. This amazing experience had been ripped out from under me — cut short, without any warning or closure.

Throughout the upcoming weeks, a friend called telling me that her internship was cancelled for the summer, my sister was furloughed at her job in NYC, and my brother and his fiancé worried about their upcoming wedding date in August. I noticed we were all grieving — grieving the various losses we were experiencing, and questioning what the new normal would look like.

It has taken about 50 walks outside with my exhausted and overexerted golden retriever (who probably now wishes that both me and my entire family were abroad) to realize that my sadness was grief and that it was okay to be grieving.

Our whirlwind of the untimely ending to our much anticipated experience abroad, while unexpected, is one that has taught me how to hold the simultaneous existence of grievance and gratitude.

 

Sara Heckelman

Sara Heckelman, majoring in Marketing and Supply Chain Management with a minor in Hebrew Studies, is a member of the Strategic Design and Innovation Fellows Program at Smith. Heckelman, who speaks fluent Hebrew, spent her summer living and interning in Tel Aviv, Israel at a supply chain logistics software start-up. On-campus, she is president of a co-ed Jewish a cappella group called Rak Shalom and serves as a Consultant & Financial Analyst for the business consulting club, Tamid. Heckelman is looking forward to biking through the beautiful streets of Copenhagen, Denmark, learning with top professors at Copenhagen Business School, and documenting and sharing her journey with globally-minded Smith students.

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