In spite of the pandemic study abroad trip offered opportunity to grow


Benni Romito has completed her year-long exchange student trip at Lawrence High School. Romito is from Italy.

By Benni Romito, Contributor

When I decided to do an exchange year and leave Italy for 10 months, I never thought I would need to put hand sanitizer and a bag of masks in my carry-on bag, but at least I had a full row of seats on the airplane just for myself.

If someone thinks about an exchange year, they will probably think about it as the best experience that you could ever do, since you are far from home and you can feel free from what your parents say or make you do. 

There are many reasons why someone decides to live for 10 months in a foreign country. The most common one is to learn the language and the culture. Others want to grow, find themselves or escape strict parents. I wanted to study abroad to challenge and see myself in a new environment as well as improve my English.

Most of the time, people don’t think about the bad moments you can go through during those 10 months. You are somewhere unknown where you don’t have a familiar person to turn to. You probably have always counted on someone else. 

Before leaving, everybody gave me little tips like “be extroverted,” “never say no to anything,” “you will stay just 10 months — you shouldn’t care about what people think.” The advice was all true but hard to apply.

It was hard to apply because this hasn’t been a normal year to study abroad. I thought about leaving for more than a year, after first convincing my parents, applying, reading pages and pages of rules, and getting excited.

Until COVID-19.

I didn’t know what the experience would be like — or if I would even have the opportunity to travel to America during a pandemic. I would have just one year somewhere — a costly trip that I couldn’t experience 100%. To get over that sense of anger, I always told myself, “at least you’re here.” 

Not going to school for basically a semester, I think, was what made making friends difficult. Previous exchange students always told me that at school, classmates and teachers would be nice and would want to know you because you are the exchange student. But even when I started going to school, everybody was distant because of the virus. 

There have been horrible moments, struggles with feeling alone without people who knew me. One of the most difficult things that I had to remember was that people didn’t know me at all, and that could be helpful because they weren’t influenced by anyone’s views about me. They could see me as I really am. But sometimes, I felt nobody could understand me because they didn’t know my past.

Now I fear going home, because things have changed, and I have changed.

Everything that has happened in these months made me grow.

If I could go back in time, I would do it again. Sometimes I wish I could do it from the beginning as the new me because I regret things that I have and haven’t done. One thing that I regret is probably the fact that for a certain period of time I focused just on the few people that I met instead of continuing to make new friends.

In the end, I would suggest this experience to anyone who has the opportunity. Looking back, I only remember the good moments. The bad moments happen anyway, but when you work through them by yourself, they make you stronger.