I left Italy for the United States on August 23, 2019, with plans to live locally with my aunt and attend Randolph High School for the 2019-2020 academic year.  Originally, my goals were twofold: fulfill my childhood dream of living abroad and improve my English-language skills. With the onset of COVID-19, however, my dream has become a nightmare. Like millions of others around the world, I’m living in limbo; quarantined in my aunt’s house, without knowing when I’ll be able to return home to Italy due to the traveling restrictions.

I moved to Randolph aiming to grow not only as a student but also as a person. The first few months were hard;  I never thought that adjusting to a different culture would be so complicated. I missed my family and my friends. I could not seem to adjust to such a different school system or even understanding English, through listening to and speaking it always had been second nature to me when I attended my bilingual school in Italy. When I arrived in Randolph and started school, I quickly came to appreciate what my mother had always told me; the spoken language is completely different from the written language, and this was my challenge.   In order to cope with the unexpected, I decided that I should just  concentrate on school, homework and simply adapting to this new culture and environment, trying not to worry too much about making new friends and having new experiences.

Thanks to help from the high school and many of its students, at first, I was able to enjoy a multitude of wonderful experiences that I’ll never forget: Spirit Week; football and hockey games (two sports that I’d never seen before); a field trip to New York City and the best lunch breaks with the best people. I had the good fortune to become acquainted with many great people who made me feel at home, like a true RAM.

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At the beginning, high school events like prom, after prom and graduation ceremonies didn’t interest me, but as time passed, my excitement for them started to grow. This is one reason why, like so many RHS students, I felt frustrated when this invisible virus began taking away so much from my amazing experience abroad. Mostly, it took away my opportunity to finish out the school year with all of my new friends and with the teachers who have helped me grow and become a totally new person.

On the other hand, I also felt guilty for feeling frustrated because I was aware of the gravity of the COVID-19 situation: millions of people around the world were suffering for an infinite number of reasons. How could I even complain about not being able to finish my year abroad like I’d imagined I would when people were dying or had lost someone close to them because of this horrible virus that had turned all of our lives upside down?

For weeks, this sense of guilt ate at me from the inside. I couldn’t decide what to do: abandon my dream and return to Italy as soon as possible to be with my family or hang onto the hope of seeing my friends again, once quarantine finally ended, before flying home.

The sacrifices that my family and I had made to enable me to come here were many, so giving up and letting everything go did not seem right. Leaving things half way wasn’t like me; I had never done it before, and I did not want to start now.

You have to look at the bigger picture, Giulia, I told myself. This thing is much bigger than you. You have to make a mature decision. I was ready to catch the first flight home, until I received a telephone call from my parents that nixed that plan. My parents told me that I had to stay here in America. “Safety comes first, and traveling now is not the safest thing to do,” they said.

Two months into the school closure, I’m still here, and it’s surreal. It’s like living in a science fiction movie. It’s not easy to see the whole world going through a crisis that its inhabitants have never experienced before. It’s not easy to be thousands of miles away from my home during a time like this, and it’s not easy to accept the fact that my return home to Italy is being compromised by something that I have no control over; something much smaller and yet also much bigger than I am.

Thousands of college students have had to leave their campuses to return home. Thousands of high school seniors will not be able to experience some of the best moments of their lives, and thousands of students studying abroad like me have taken a detour from their planned path, only halfway through our journey. I’m certainly not the only young adult who isn't able to fully grasp all that is happening.  I’m definitely not the only student who can’t seem to stop feeling angry because I will not be able to experience some of the moments that I have been dreaming about my entire life. And I know I’m not the only one whose anger is also making me feel bad for being selfish in a moment like this.

The novel coronavirus has taken away many things from many people. I think that we’ve all lost something because of this virus. I’ve lost the last piece of the puzzle I’ve been waiting to finish for a long time. I don’t know when I’m going to be able to go home and hug my family. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to have a real farewell with RHS and its students. I only know that I remain in a strange state of limbo, hoping and praying that the situation will get better soon.

Living through this pandemic so far from home isn’t easy, but I keep repeating to myself that we’re all in this together; that there are a lot of people who are facing what I’m facing too; that there are thousands of people who have to overcome obstacles that are much more challenging than mine. I just need to bear up and hold on.

Editor's Note: Giulia del Grosso is an exchange student who is participating in a journalism program at Randolph High School.