Lessons From Abroad: Pursuing Connection in the Midst of Separation

Bus ride to the Remarkables. Queenstown, NZ.

As the weeks drag on, there seems to be a never-ending scroll of updates circulating the news. These announcements lead us to question whether we are safe financially, whether we should be preparing for the long haul, or what our next job and even our leadership will look like over the next year. With each broadcast, we are forced to rethink our past routines. Prior to the looming effects of the current pandemic, community quarantines and the sequestering efforts of social distancing, the concerns on everyone’s minds seemed so pressing. We were worried about meeting deadlines, planning trips for graduation, and dealing with issues that already seemed heavy at the time. While these thoughts did not completely disappear, they are now outweighed by the complete lack of control over these parts of our lives.

I cannot help but drift back to dreamier memories from last semester. I finally made it to Australia after two sweaty, almost unbearable flights. My last flight home from Australia to Austin, Texas was the week of Thanksgiving. I spent five months studying abroad, where I was able to move freely, interact with strangers, and live life in a completely foreign environment. I loved it. Hungry to embrace the culture and personality of that place, whatever it was going to offer me, I took in and savored every beautiful sight and conversation. Young people from all over the world, brought together by the passion to explore unfamiliar territory and learn from the life experiences of others. We took a journey through the unknown together. And through it, we planned to better understand our interaction with each other and the world.

As days unfold slowly, I realize just how true that statement is for us now, even in the midst of our current situation. While I never wanted to take Australia for granted, I may have unintentionally taken this time at home for granted. Simple freedoms like joining together at church on Sunday, sharing a meal with a close friend, interacting with different faces day in and day out on the street, receiving a paycheck after a long week of work, even driving through traffic on my way back home. It may not be traveling to the other end of the world that I crave at this moment, but mundane activities that never felt so precious.

Isolation is a foreign idea to a human being. A large part of our nature craves social interaction and companionship. Especially in a time of crisis, our one aching desire is to confide in the fellowship of others. And while distancing aims to protect the lives of our friends and families, our inward being naturally cries out for this closeness. Temporary borders will be built, and it could feel like an eternity of detachment from normal life. However, we must not let walls between people stand for too long out of fear that may cause more harm than good.

My hope is that when physical boundaries are torn down again, our world can return to functioning as one, breathing, interconnected body. Once more, may we rediscover the desire to set out on our next adventure. Rather than seek security in familiar places, I hope we search for opportunities to gain a new perspective of the world. Despite an ever-present divergence in ideologies and cultures, I hope that differences would be set aside for a better focus. That we could emerge from this time with the awareness that life is too short to lack compassion and connectedness with our neighborhoods, and the natural environment around us.

Today, do not let isolation win. Let us grab hold of those who face loneliness and hopelessness on a daily basis. Use the resources we built to keep our world more connected, come together while we are apart. We can continue to spread encouragement and support online, call loved ones, and find ways to be more connected to ourselves through this time of growth and self-reflection. When this is all over, imagine using what we have discovered to create a more creative, unified world.

Mairead Miklos is a Global Ambassador at the University of South Carolina. She studied abroad with ISA in Brisbane, Australia

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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