Onward.

Adapt. Pivot. Plan B.

Resilience. Perseverance. Resolve.

In the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, even our vocabulary has changed in response to plans and progress disrupted by the coronavirus. In this series of three, in their own words, Wilson College of Textiles graduates and students share their stories of bouncing forward during this unprecedented time. 

 

Strong Enough | Onward Series Part 3

By Devayani Taywade Patil ’21 

(Patil, a senior international student from India, is pursuing a B.S. degree in fashion and textile management with a concentration in fashion development and product management.)

Russian poet Anna Akhmatova once said, “Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” Now, I haven’t lived my whole life yet but I certainly have dreamt about Italy nearly every single day for the past seven months! I was fortunate to study abroad in Florence this past spring semester until COVID-19 started to take over the world. 

I was naïve to believe by the end of February that I still had three more months left to explore and experience the Italian culture: in reality, I had three days to pack up and return. In a flash, I went from eating the finest cheese and strolling around in designer stores everyday to cooking frozen food in quarantine. Nevertheless, I am so grateful; ever since my return, I am reminded that every single day I spent in Italy proved to be a significant learning experience, albeit in a slightly tragic yet beautiful way.

I wanted to study abroad in the first place because I felt like I needed a change of pace, a change of scenery and a little bit of motivation creatively. With help from the study abroad office, I applied to Accademia Italiana in Florence.

Fast forward to January 8 when I was landing in Italy – quite nervous because I had no idea what to expect! I remember waking up the next day and thinking to myself, ‘What have I done … where am I?’ but luckily, my excitement and curiosity to explore and learn took over my nervousness. By the end of that day, I was already planning all my weekend trips! 

If I were to describe my time abroad, I would say it was anything but ordinary. Italy has the most scrumptious food, remarkable style and fashion, stunning scenery and best people! All of my classes and professors had a different approach to learning yet the most important thing they wanted for us was to explore and experience the Italian way of life through classwork. There’s a reason they say “la dolce vita!”  

The experience was so rich. Having the professors, the director of the school and our coordinator know every single one of us by our names, last names and personal history in such a short amount of time was truly admirable. It was evident that each one of them genuinely cared about us, willing to help us with anything we needed at any given time. 

During the first few days, I met some of my now closest friends. Bonding quickly, we traveled to different places almost every weekend and had the best time! I think that played an enormous role in making me feel comfortable and confident while I was in Italy. 

After a couple weeks, it didn’t even feel like I was in a foreign country anymore; it felt like it was meant to be – as if I had always lived there. I knew a fair amount of roads in Florence and could get around without having to use maps. I was grocery shopping like a local, conversing in Italian (or at least trying) and meeting new people. In fact, everyday, I thought to myself, ‘This is too good to be true.’

And I guess it was.

The novel coronavirus was spreading rapidly and being in Italy – one of the first countries to be affected exponentially by this pandemic – put not just us students but our families, friends and institutions in panic mode. 

By the end of February, students and tourists all over Italy were starting to leave and go back home. Even the weather turned gloomy and strange as if the universe were trying to tell us something. I remember our teacher showing us around an area but none of us really paid attention because it was so eerie; we knew we would have to leave the country soon. We decided to make the most of whatever time we had left but as it turned out, it wasn’t a lot.

After having one of the best days of my life February 28, I woke up the next day to emails from NC State, messages from friends and family and news stating that the CDC had declared that Italy had just reached level 3: we were being pulled out of the study abroad program. We were supposed to return back to the States as soon as possible as they feared we’d be stuck indefinitely if Italy went into lockdown (which it did eventually). It was like waking up and thinking those past two months were literally a dream. 

To say that I was crushed would be an understatement. There were so many feelings, emotions and thoughts running through my mind and the day of departure was even crazier than expected. After checking in at the airport, I had just enough time to grab an espresso before I boarded the plane – and with a heavy heart sent my goodbye texts to people still in Florence. Soon, I was back in Raleigh and proceeded to check in at the quarantine location that NC State had made available for returning study abroad students who didn’t have families or homes in the area. 

The quarantine period was an experience in its own. At first, I had no idea how I was going to be in isolation for 14 days but I think after the shock and abrupt departure, quarantine may have been the best thing that could have happened. It gave me plenty of time to myself to gather my thoughts, face my new reality and slowly get back on track regarding what was to come next and how I was going to continue with the semester. 

It also afforded me a lot of time to reach out and talk to my friends and family as they were all checking in on me constantly. Slowly, my classes transitioned to online delivery and – even though virtually – it felt great to see my professors and classmates from Italy again. I was really excited to see all my friends here at State who were now on an extended spring break but little did I know, by the time I got out of quarantine, everyone was basically self-quarantining since the virus had now impacted the U.S. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives in ways I couldn’t even have imagined. Like the rest of the world, I am still trying to get used to the new ‘normal.’ But honestly, the more I think about it, as more days go by, this year has personally given me so much to hold on to, with so many experiences and memories that I will never forget – all which have shaped me and helped me grow emotionally and mentally. 

This whole experience has also helped me realize that I am strong enough to handle situations and to be independent. More importantly, it has taught me to live in the moment and seize every opportunity I get. I am glad that I used all my time in Italy to travel, meet people, taste new food and discover new experiences every single day! I think I was the happiest I have ever been over there and I certainly plan on going back one day.

Looking back, I think this year has already proven to be one of the most significant in my life. I feel content with whatever I was able to experience both good and bad, because it’s all about the perspective we have – and what we learn! 

I don’t know what my future holds, but I am excited to see what happens next. I am confident I can deal with whatever life brings – and it wouldn’t have been the same if I never studied abroad and was sent back, courtesy of a pandemic.  

 

Three things I learned from Italy

1. Keep exploring and experiencing new things; life is too short and there is too much to see and do!

2. Life is uncertain and doesn’t always go as planned; be ready and willing to adapt to constant change – mentally, emotionally and physically.

3. Have a positive outlook and a progressive perspective toward everything; there is no point lamenting over something that has happened or is out of our control. Life will go on – so it’s important to learn from those lessons to better ourselves.