When emergencies happen abroad

By Sydney M.

June 2, 2021

Leaving for study abroad was a particularly hard moment for me. Leaving my family behind was hard, but what was even harder was that one of my dogs, Tator Tot, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer a month prior and was given a few days to a few weeks to live. He had been actually doing quite well on the day that I left, but I knew when I was leaving my house to get on the plane to South Korea, that I would be saying goodbye to my best friend for the last time. Despite the vet’s prognosis, he was doing amazing and had more energy than ever before. I began to have hope to see him once more.

Fast forward to mid-May. I learn that things had taken a turn for the worst with Tator and that he’d likely be put to sleep before I arrived home on June 28. I began to feel that same loss that I felt the day that I left him. I felt a bit crushed and along with the stress of classes, and I began to feel overwhelmed. A few days later, I received a video call.

“I don’t want you to be scared, but can you get Vlad on the phone so he can hear this, too?” my mom asked.

“What is it? I wasn’t scared until you told me not to be. Vlad is busy at the moment, but you have to tell me now or I’m going to worry myself sick, so can you just tell me now?”

I wondered if something happened to Tator. Then my mom paused for a moment and through a forced smile, she said; “I have been diagnosed with breast cancer, but everything is going to be okay. You have to believe me.”

I was in shock. Already overwhelmed, it felt like everything around me was crashing down. Moving across the world was hard on everyone, but it was the hardest on my mom. And knowing that she would have to go through the uncertainty, the doctors appointments, surgeries and treatments without me there was tearing me apart. I took a few days to come to terms with what my mom had told me. I contemplated what the right decision to make would be. Should I finish my time in Korea or come home earlier and finish my studies at home?

I began to feel worse with each passing day, instead of better. That is when I rebooked my plane tickets, giving me a week to pack up and say goodbye to the country I fell in love with. It was a bittersweet week. My professors were understanding and allowed me to continue my studies asynchronously. I traveled my favorite parts of the city one last time, said goodbye to my favorite restaurants, bought all last-minute souvenirs. And then I went home. I hugged my mom as tight as I could and gave Tator Tot all of the pets. We all celebrated my birthday a few days later.

It is now June 2, and I have been handling classes pretty well. I am still able to attend certain classes despite the time difference, but for others I must watch recordings of them. People always tell you to be prepared for emergencies that can happen to you abroad, but they don’t really talk about the possibility of family emergencies that can happen at home. I think there are big decisions that have to be made when an emergency happens and you aren’t around to help out. You want study abroad to be this perfect and positive experience, but that is not always the case. I want to [share an article](https://www.studyinternational.com/news/family-emergency-while-studying-abroad-stay-calm-heres-what-to-do/) that helped me reach the decision that was best for me.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone at Korea University for allowing me patience and grace during this time. In the past year, college classes have become more flexible than ever and I do not think it would have been possible for me to complete my studies at home if this had happened pre-pandemic. I hope that in the future, when classes go back to in-person, that this much flexibility continues to be offered to students facing emergencies. Studying abroad at home has made all the difference to me and my family during this time, and if something similar were to happen to someone else, I hope they are given the same opportunity.

Last night in South Korea
Assortment of Korean sweets from local store.


Learn more about this blogger’s study abroad program: Korea University