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How COVID-19 Has Changed My Study Abroad Year: Travel Story and Being Sick

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I haven’t written anything or attended classes for the past 14 days. I know nobody cares but the reason is that I have been so damn sick. Physically sick because it is getting cold here in Vilnius and I wasn’t careful with my health, mentally sick and tired of this pandemic. 

This blog post is meant to be just a little rant about how the pandemic has changed study abroad and how having a cold these days feels like commiting a crime. I will also share my recent travel story and the lessons I have learned. Hope this will help someone. 

How my study abroad year has changed

I left Japan in January 2020 to start my study abroad year in Europe. You have no idea how excited I was, thinking about all the European countries I will travel to; how I will meet all my European friends again after they left Japan; how many cool people I will meet at all the cool events in Vilnius and how many concerts I will perform here (yes I sing and make stupid songs and perform sometimes). 

I came to Vilnius in February and the lockdown was applied in March and since then, nothing has been how I expected.

But we are not here to complain, we are here to evaluate ^^

Online classes

I’m sure this has been annoying for a lot of people, not only students but also teachers and professors. Before I could start my study abroad year with making friends, online classes started and that was it. I didn’t learn anything and I didn’t make many friends (except I was lucky enough to have met my boyfriend and 3 amazing friends). 

Online classes, to me, are quite awkward and uninformative. I hardly learn anything because I can always turn on Youtube anytime and I often join on my bed and so I don’t take notes.

If you read my previous post about why you should study abroad, one of the values is that you meet cool people with different backgrounds. However, with this pandemic going on, a lot of nationalities were not allowed to enter Lithuania, mostly Europeans are here. 

But again, I have got a different kind of value from online classes. I got to establish a kind of family relationship with my roommates because we are sort of home all the time. It feels nice and more intimate than the kind of friends you make in a bar.

Public events and museums are closed

So I kinda lowkey didn’t get the chance to learn about this country’s culture. But hey I got to go to the beach and other cities so it was fine. But again I wish I could see more festivals, public events and museums. 

Travel restrictions

Aha you know the whole point of me choosing to come to Vilnius is that so I can travel around Europe and see my friends. The thing is it is possible to travel to a few countries but a 2-week self-isolation would be required and I can’t afford a 5-day trip to Belgium and then pay for 2 weeks for a hotel in Vilnius. So basically, staying where I am is the only choice, which kinda results in my love-hate relationship with Vilnius. 

I know a lot of people suffer way worse and I’m not complaining ok? I’m just evaluating what has changed.

Also, home seems so far away now since the only way I could go back home is applying through the embassy but there is no Vietnamese embassy in Vilnius. This is quite awkward. 

I might have to contact the embassy in Finland or Poland and then go there to catch the flight home which apparently costs 1300USD. 

How COVID-19 affects my mental health

I never really have depression or anxiety or anything like that, but I have been feeling frustrated, homesick and resentful towards what is happening now. At some point I just wanted to leave my study behind and just go back home. 

The fact that I can not leave Lithuania makes me feel suffocated, my mind went into pessimistic mode. Everything about this country, at some point, annoyed the shit out of me. Nobody speaks English, my very few friends went back home, I have not made any new friends, my part-time jobs are horrible and pay too little (3 euro per hour). It was not easy at all, I don’t remember how many times I have broken down and cried. 

I talked to my family and got some clarity from them. What I realised was that going home might not be the answer. It is easy to think the answer is somewhere else when you feel stuck, but really it is just how you look at things. I know it sounds so corny and stupid, but I tried to look at things in a different way and it worked. 

I remind myself what I would miss about Lithuania once I leave and how staying in Vietnam might not feel so pleasant for me either way (arguments with family, dealing with toxic, narrow-minded relatives and so on). So I live everyday here like it is my last day. I try to appreciate the streets, every building, the buses, the people,… And it worked!!! I felt so much better and so I could get myself together and continue my last semester here. 

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How I managed to travel anyway

You really can’t stop this bitch from doing what she loves. Who says just because I can’t travel abroad, I can’t travel at all?

Me and my boyfriend organised a road trip around Lithuania, we thought to take this chance of not being able to leave, to actually learn more about this country. 

We rented a car online which cost about 36 euro for 3 days and planned to sleep in the car to save money and be more flexible. 

We literally removed all of our beddings and blankets and put them on the backseats, bought some groceries and then the road trip began. Here is our itinerary  

Travel around Lithuania itinerary

We went to lots of cool, unpopular places. Here are some photos of the trip.

Girl arguing with a giant wooden mannequin
Me being silly at Labyrinth Parkas
A girl standing at Hill of crosses
Me being cute at Hill of Crosses
Girl standing at a large and big hill
Me being super cute at Kernaves piliakalniu apzvalgos aikstele

At night, we either stopped at the gas stations or at the truck stop. Everything was cool except our “bed” was not comfortable at all. We also left the window a tiny bit open just for the air to come in, but it was rainy and cold, so our sleep wasn’t the best of all. 

I got sick…

We managed to sleep like that for 2 days and then I started getting sick and my back pain was getting out of hand, so we sort of went home early because we missed our real beds. 

I started coughing like crazy, especially at night, so I didn’t get any sleep and neither did my roommates. 

I swear I don’t often get sick this easily, I guess it’s because I left the car window open during the coldest night. 

I had to skip classes for almost 2 weeks, did not write a single word for my blog and did not have any sleep. 

You know when you get sick and you start remembering all those days when you felt healthy and you hate yourself for being so ungrateful because now all you want is to feel normal. Yeah, I felt that way for so damn long.

I did drink ginger tea, gargle with salt water, take honey and protect my throat at all cost. I even went to the pharmacy and bought coughing syrup, but it got worse and worse. 

After a while my boyfriend noticed that the syrup that the guy in the pharmacy gave me made me cough harder. I don’t know why anyone would want to buy syrup that makes them cough more. But apparently it exists. 

Sooooo me and my boyfriend went back to the pharmacy and politely argued with the guy about why he didn’t listen to my symptoms and gave me the wrong medicine. It was pretty heated but eventually he gave me back my money, and we went to buy a different coughing syrup. 

Here is the coughing syrup that helped me get better in less than 24 hours. Just in case this can help someone.

What I have learned

Yeah so now that I’m back, I thought I might write down what I learned and so next time, I actually learn from my mistakes.

  • I have learned that the pandemic sucks, but it really can’t stop us from finding our happiness if we drive our focus on something else. I found indulging in small pleasures really helpful. 
  • I have learned that we can never be completely satisfied with anything or anywhere. When I was home, I wanted to come to Lithuania, now that I’m here I want nothing but going home. It is just a human thing that we take things for granted until we can’t have it anymore. We have to constantly remind ourselves that we only want this and that because we can’t have it, once we do, it might feel good for a while but it can’t solve our problem. The one thing that can fulfil us though, is inner peace. I know I sound like a monk, but that’s what I learned. 

    I sort of tried to find things to be happy about each day (sometimes I write them down), even on my worst days, I still tried. And it helped so much because it reminds me what a good life I’m having and everything else that I can’t have right now (traveling, going to museums, visiting my friends) won’t be able to make me happy unless I’m happy here and now.

  • I have learned that I might not like traveling as I thought, getting sick is so annoying and that I have been taking my health for granted. 

  • I have learned that this blog does matter to me and I like it very much because now, it has a piece of myself in it as I grow.

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