I am a rising senior at Deerfield Academy, and I am from Atlanta, Georgia. I participated in School Year Abroad Italy, but my time in this beautiful place was cut short by the coronavirus.
Having to leave Italy due to coronavirus concerns was a really interesting situation, and my personal experience with the virus differed a lot from the assumptions that most people had. From an American perspective, it may have seemed like all of Italy was devastated by the virus and it may have seemed like we’d have to take a ton of extreme precautions whilst witnessing the people around us contracting the coronavirus 24/7. But for the people living in Italy, at least in the south region where I was living, it honestly felt like nothing was happening. While my friends in America were receiving the news from Italy, I had to constantly assure them it was okay where I was. I didn’t think I was going home until the day before we were sent home— that’s how sudden it was. I felt so stupid because I had been so sure that I wouldn’t be leaving Italy.
It all happened so quickly.
The outbreak started in northern Italy. Some of my friends went there for Carnival and when they came back they had to be quarantined. That was the first time I realized things were starting to change— when I went to school and half the people weren’t there because they had traveled to the north. My host family was also assuring me that I wasn’t going home to America anytime soon, because we were far away from the virus, and there was nothing to be afraid of. Soon after, the government started to close college programs, and then began to close the Italian schools. At that point, the decision to send us home was solidified.
A week before we left, we received an email about how many parents were beginning to take their kids out of the SYA program, and we were told to make a decision to stay or leave Italy. I was one of the students who was miserable at the thought of leaving, so I chose to stay. There was so much left to do, and so much left to see. My friends and I had all sorts of inside jokes such as “No Tears Tivoli,” where we planned to visit Tivoli as a sanctuary whenever we had bad days. We were going to go to Paris and Greece, but we kept putting it off for the next weekend.
That week was a sad one. We were under the impression that some of our friends were leaving, while some of us were staying, so our teachers went a little easier on us and we adjusted our lifestyle, but we not in a way where we expected everyone to leave.
The day we got the news that we all had to go back home, we had spent the entire day making pizza and bread and having an amazing time. We also planned a field trip for the upcoming days. We then received a Slack message that told all students to return to the school for an announcement, which is where we were told the program was officially ending and we had to pack our bags and leave immediately. The tears in the room were absolutely insane. Our hearts broke when we realized this was the end. Almost every single person was bawling. That morning I had actually posted a Snapchat story assuring my friends I wasn’t going home, but after the announcement I had to update them, saying, “just kidding.”
One thing I always regret about my time at Deerfield, and something I only realized during my time in Italy, is that I missed out on a lot of things. It especially matters to me now because I only have my senior year left when I return. My sophomore year was characterized by not going to dances and not making the most of my time. So I decided at the beginning of junior year that I didn’t want to leave Italy with any regrets. In the end, I think I did just that, to the point where I was able to get on that plane and say “I’m sad, but I’m so grateful for everything I experienced.” I’m glad I walked into the school year with this mindset because if I hadn’t, my regrets would have been heightened due to our early departure.
After coming home, I’ve realized that I have a lot to catch up on, especially my photography pursuits. I had been planning to do a huge photography project in the spring term of SYA, which was going to be my capstone project. I was so excited to travel around Italy and photograph people and study fashion— but unfortunately that just didn’t happen. I had spent considerably less time taking photos in Italy than I had in America, and now I have to work harder to build my portfolio and look into scholarships and similar opportunities for college.
As a closing note, I just want to pass along the message that we should strive to take every opportunity we have while we still have them. The only time you are guaranteed is the present. Living with this philosophy allowed me to enjoy my SYA experience so much more, and even though I had about three months less than I hoped, I left feeling grateful.
Written by: Lily Zeng