Leaving Dublin without saying goodbye

A student recalls finding out that they’d have to return home early from their study abroad in Dublin, Ireland, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


It’s always a weird feeling, calling a city home for the first time. 

After only being in Dublin, Ireland, for two weeks this semester, I started to call it home. When something feels that familiar so quickly, it’s difficult to imagine leaving — even when it’s still months away. 

I decided to make the most of my time and travel outside of Dublin for my spring break. When I got to my hostel in Edinburgh, Scotland, I met another girl from the United States who was also studying in Dublin. We talked about how there were cases of COVID-19 at Trinity College and her school’s transition online, but we didn’t really think much of it because Ireland’s cases were minimal.

The next morning, as soon as I returned from my run, the news started flooding my email inbox. 

“U.S. suspends most travel from Europe,” the headline read.

I started to realize my time in Ireland would probably be cut short, but I thought I’d still have at least two to three weeks left. I went and got a full Scottish breakfast at a cafe, then explored Edinburgh. 

When I reconnected to wifi in my hostel that night, panicked texts from my friends in Dublin flooded my phone. They were wondering how we were going to get out of the country by Monday. 

Their texts ranged from “what’s happening?” to “you guys aren’t going home, right?” and even “I honestly think it’s fine if we stay, as long as Temple doesn’t email us saying we have to come home.”

None of us really knew what was happening. 

My flight to Dublin from Scotland was Monday night, only four days away, so I went on the bar crawl with the hostel to distract myself from everything around me, hanging out with students from different countries who were traveling alone, too. 

When we finally got to a bar with wifi, I finally read the email: “Temple University has suspended study abroad programs in Europe, including your Spring 2020 program…”

As I skimmed the page I saw in bold, “Make arrangements to return home as soon as possible but not later than Monday, March 16.”

The next hour or two were filled with frantic texts to my friends and my mom.

That night, my mom told me to enjoy the next day and we’d figure out what to do after my morning hike. 

Despite everything going on, that next morning was one of the best days I had abroad. I got to see the Highlands, hike up a 900-meters-tall mountain and appreciate the tranquility of the mountains surrounding me. 

But then it was back to my hostel, back to reality. 

I called my mom and frantically tried to get an earlier flight back to Dublin so I could pack up and leave before the airlines shut down completely. I rebooked my flight out of Edinburgh two days earlier, and decided I would look at flights home once I got back to Dublin. 

Sunday morning, the airport was full of big suitcases and American accents as students tried to get home before being stuck in Europe indefinitely. I wandered through the empty Edinburgh Airport and got on a flight back to Dublin. Almost everyone had a mask on.

“You’re studying here?” the immigration officer asked me when I arrived in Dublin.

“Yeah,” I said quietly.

“Hm… not anymore, I guess,” he replied.

The bus ride back to my residence hall felt like a numb dream. I got in my room, broke down into tears and FaceTimed my parents to book a flight home.

I spent my last two days in Dublin wandering the beautiful, yet eerily deserted streets and hiking a coastal path in Howth, just outside of the city.

My final day there didn’t seem real. The city was empty. 

I tried to find a bar to have one last Guinness in, but they were closed. I got some of my favorite snacks at a grocery store because I didn’t know when I would be back to enjoy them.

In the airport on Tuesday morning, I joined the queue of other college students from the States, trying to get home before being confined to their Dublin residence halls for the next few months. I chatted with students from back home. Us east-coasters were lucky, we only had one flight back. A girl from Los Angeles, and many others, wondered if they would catch their connecting flight home, to smaller places in the country. 

I remembered it was Saint Patrick’s Day when I saw passengers in green hats and shirts. If you asked me when I first got to Ireland, I would tell you I was planning on being drunk by noon. 

Instead, I was out of the country by 9 a.m. 

I boarded the plane, still not thinking of anything in particular. It was all so sudden. I didn’t have time to say a proper goodbye to my friends in Ireland.

I felt like I took my first two months of living in Ireland for granted, like I held myself back thinking I had more time. There were so many things I didn’t do because I always thought I would wait one more day, one more week. In my mind I kept thinking, “I have so much time.”

And now I was looking out the window of a plane home, watching the green fields of Ireland disappear below me. My heart sank as we drifted up through the clouds.

I’ve flown home from trips plenty of other times, and every time I was ready to go home. But when I started to land on this flight back from Dublin, all I felt was emptiness. I was mourning the experiences I would never get, the times I will never have, the opportunity that was stripped away from me in a flash.

At home, I keep thinking of memories I’ll never get to make, experiences I’ll never have, good times with friends I have to pass up, angry with myself I didn’t do more when I was there. 

But how could I have known?

I keep trying to find a way to get the experience back. I feel selfish that I am more sad about losing my semester abroad than I am thankful for being home in good health. 

I’m frustrated and confused, and I’m wondering if any of those feelings are valid. I should be grateful for the two months I had in Ireland, but I want more.

It’s weird to have to leave a place that was just becoming home so quickly — especially because it feels like I’ll never have my goodbye.

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