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My COVID Semester Abroad

Raleigh Jeffrey, '20, shared his experience studying abroad in France during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read it here:

 

The decision to study abroad during my final semester as a student at Lyon College was a difficult one to make. The reason being that I would not be able to partake in any of the graduation festivities and ceremonies that my fellow graduating classmates would be able to participate in. I figured that, being so enthusiastic about my chosen major in French, the tradeoff between spending 6 months studying and traveling in France and that of being present for my graduation would be worth it. However, never would I have imagined prior to my arrival in France that my experience there would be so vastly altered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic from that which I had pictured in my mind.

The first months of my stay were surreal. Having the opportunity to finally put to use all of my hard work that I had committed to learning the French language as best I could in rural Arkansas, I was ecstatic to be comfortably living among and communicating with a completely different culture of people. Moreover, having a significant other who is a French native makes the immersion in the language and culture that much more meaningful and effective. The teachers at the Centre de Français Langue Étrangère (CFLE) university in Poitiers, France, were some of the most enthusiastic teachers that I have had the pleasure to learn from thus far in my life. The way with which they embrace their foreign students as well as their level of patience with us made the learning experience extremely comfortable and fluid. With a multitude of varied activities, I was able to quickly make friends among my fellow students. It was with these fellow students whom I would come to work with in improving my understanding of more than just French culture, as they all came from their own unique part of the world as well with the same goal in mind. However, had I known that our time together would have been cut short I would have tried to make more plans with them and strengthen our friendships even more. As I was preparing to return to my apartment after my weekly weekend visit to my girlfriend and her family, President Emmanuel Macron came on the television with an announcement. This announcement would bring with it the grave news that, as a result of the pandemic, the country of France and its inhabitants would enter a state of lockdown with a tentative date of conclusion but would ultimately be indefinite. We were given a few days by the government to do anything outdoors that we needed to get done before the lockdown took effect. Shocked and trying to process the news, we began saying our goodbyes to my girlfriend’s family before returning to my apartment in Poitiers for the duration of the confinement. During the following days, we stocked up on food and supplies at the grocery store, which had already nearly been completely cleaned out by other preppers. Once the lockdown had gone into effect, we were required to carry a sort of permission slip with us, stating our reason for being outdoors, lest we risk being issued a large fine by the police. The teachers from CFLE reached out to all of the students to check in and see how we were doing, as well as to organize how we would continue classes by using whatever methods possible given the current state of things.

Although I was worried about the repercussions that a forced lockdown would have on those who needed to work, the beginning of the confinement was fairly easy in my case and even somewhat relaxing, needing not worry about the outside world but instead spending time reading, watching a series, and just working on my assignments. My classmates, teachers and I met via video conference three times per week for several hours at a time. There, we would go over relevant topics and continue our studies as best we were able. We had hoped that classes would resume before the semester ended. Unfortunately, however, the date when we would be allowed to freely go outside was pushed back time and again. By the time that we were released and able to go outside without the need of a permission slip, the semester had ended, we had finished our final assignments for the university, and most people had given up hope that we would be let out before at least mid-summer. My girlfriend and I had begun to become comfortable with a daily routine limited to the four walls within my small apartment in the city center of Poitiers. Never did I think that I would miss the countryside so much as I did.

We were finally released from the lockdown one week before my lease on my apartment ended on June 5, 2020. With new regulations that require the wearing of a mask in the majority of stores, we have entered into a time during which we must conform to a way of life that I had previously never given much thought to. So much has happened in the world since my arrival in France on December 26, 2019. I had arrived with a picture-perfect mental image of how I had imagined my time here would play out. I had planned to visit so many historic and beautiful places. The silver lining in all of this is that I did in fact improve my level of French exponentially as a result of the relationships that I made with new friend’s and also with my girlfriend’s family. In addition, while I was not able to completely experience the beautiful country of France in the way that I had initially imagined, my experiences and interactions with the people of France have created a yearning to return that I will forever have. Nonetheless, despite all that has happened during this strange time, I am happy that I was able to spend my last semester as a student representing Lyon College in France.