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Study abroad during a pandemic

Going into this year studying abroad in Paris, I was very aware of the potential drawbacks being that we are still quite in the middle of a pandemic. By contrast, and much to my surprise, my first few months here were absolutely splendid. Masks were used in public spaces, and people were still in the process of getting their first or second vaccinations, so evidence of the pandemic was still everywhere. However, bars and clubs were filled till the end of nights, restaurants were packed and delicious and public spaces and parks were at full capacity and exhumed a feeling of a breath of fresh air.

Overall, I was extremely satisfied with the direction my study abroad experience seemed to be heading in. Traveling between European states was not necessarily encouraged, but was most definitely entirely possible and full of activities and excursions to do. The general consensus was one in which personal responsibility was key in curbing COVID-19 rates but lockdowns seemed to be a distant past. 

This trend continued until about the end of November. By the first week of December, Omicron started taking hold in Europe, resulting in mild flight cancellations and restrictions on nightlife in countries like Germany. It was at that point when France started to close down clubs, dancing bars and reinstate certain precautions. While Christmas was still relatively lively with crowded Christmas markets, packed (non-dancing) pubs and twinkling lights everywhere, nightlife still felt like it took a hit. New Years featured no fireworks displays, and the lack of clubs made the overall sentiment less like a national holiday and more like a semi-lively Thursday night. 

Coupled with the winter cold, these new restrictions are definitely giving me quarantine flashbacks and have been the low of my study abroad experience so far. Escaping the cold to winter vacation hotspots is rather hard and complicated. To people who are thinking of studying abroad during this time, I would say it truly is not worth it. I am so unbelievably thankful to have experienced those first few months and anticipate that the warmer months of my next semester will similarly provide more cultural fun, but truly the experience I am getting now is nowhere near comparison. 

In this time of relative quietness compared to how it usually is or how it previously was, I have found new interests in visiting Paris’s many museums, art galleries and cafes. Venturing into nearby hiking trails and wintry forest parks is a beautiful alternative to the fun of bar-hopping. This time, although impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, can still be rewarding. Overall, I am thankful for the time this has provided me to explore the more solitary, quiet lifestyle of Paris. While I wouldn’t recommend studying abroad during this particular segment of the pandemic, it still is an opportunity to dive into the rest of what Paris and France has to offer. 

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