“The very notion of going to Austria feels like another potential opportunity to add to the pile of ‘never gonna happen’”ROSIE CADDY

One way or another, perhaps without even realising it, we hear a lot about missed opportunity at the moment. Holidays unknowingly doomed from conception, students robbed of the opportunity to flex their academic muscles on the exam floor, lockdowns which should have been imposed earlier or measures which missed their moment. And of course, the big one: the lives taken from the people that should still be. Life has become dominated by missed opportunity.

This burden has ironically weighed particularly heavily on the young, despite the virus’ clear penchant for the old. The older you are, the more experiences you’ve amassed, and the less a successful future relies on the productivity of an average day. For the young, on the other hand, every year, term and even day, counts. The very essence of being youthful is the ability to shed like a snake, routinely bursting out of an old skin towards new horizons. Dynamism is part of the job description. Zoom ‘drinks’ are not.

“One way or another, perhaps without even realising it, we hear a lot about missed opportunity at the moment”

We have all had good times stolen by Covid. For me, this has materialised itself in the form of my year abroad catastrophe (some call it disruption, I call it a calamity). Indeed, there has always been anxiety associated with the year abroad, long before the concept of lockdowns and border closures had ever crossed our minds. For every second year MMLer, it looms, forming an unspoken pressure. The need for a strategy bears down on one’s shoulders until you can safely (or smugly) tell your peers that you have a plan. I’ve always known that at some point, I needed to go somewhere – abroad, specifically.

The pandemic, however, thwarted many of my plans, particularly those which featured planes, new people and metros. In March, the start of my internship in Paris in July seemed like an eternity away, and, thus, nothing to worry about. July came and went. I, however, stayed exactly where I was.

I did eventually spend some time in Paris before lockdown fever infected Europe once again. I had a wonderful, if somewhat virus-infused time, but my French did not much improve. It turns out that if my Englishness wasn’t enough to put French people off meeting me, a virus on the prowl was. On the Eurostar home, the ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ voice in my head was louder than ever.

I’ve never been one to feel the effects of FOMO, nor am I particularly prone to comparing myself to others. Yet, sitting alone at home in the north of England challenges even the most tenacious of independent personalities. Imagining the experiences forever left unseen, the vocabulary destined to remain unlearnt, the people never to be met and the scrapbook photos never to be taken is a torture of a very particular kind. This is heightened by social media, which seems to serve only to point out that some of my peers haven’t let a (little) thing like Coronavirus stand in the way of them and year abroad success.

“Romanticising what could have been is no ally”

With PCR tests, cancelled flights, visas and wasted accommodation money, the financial strain of the merging of Covid and Brexit is significant. Yet, as the year abroad is an integral part of the degree, I know that I can’t just call it a day with a few months in France under my belt. I should be going to Austria in February, but the current ban on flights from the UK will certainly hinder if not completely thwart that plan. Before you say it, yes, I have considered doing a Sound-of-Music and going over the Alps. However, I’ve concluded that based on the amount of luggage I hauled to Paris, this option would be foolhardy and should only be considered as a last resort. At times, the very notion of going to Austria feels like another potential opportunity to add to the pile of ‘never gonna happen.’

Romanticising what could have been is no ally. Linguistic improvement is not guaranteed abroad during a pandemic, as I have learnt, and although being overseas may be an enticing prospect, it would perhaps not live up to one I am envisaging. I would likely speak more German in the supermarket in Austria than I would in the average Tesco in Leeds, but if I were trapped alone in a place that doesn’t know me, I could only speak German to the voice in my head. As if this isn’t bad enough in itself, I already know all the words she knows.


Mountain View

A year at home, abroad

Many MMLers have their own versions of the year abroad stolen by Covid. Actual knowledge garnered abroad eases the pressure of final year, but the experience also equips you with something real for life. Therein lies the anguish of what has been taken from us by this pesky bug – it has never been about the certificate we receive at the end. The certificate is only a souvenir of what we are capable of and, thus, of what we have lived.

Yet, there is good reason to believe that new opportunities are making their way to us – however much they seem to be dilly-dallying. Disaster is nothing new and people do find the path waiting for their feet, even if it isn’t the one they originally expected to be walking. At the time of writing this, there is no vaccine to cure the ache for what wasn’t meant to be. However, I am sure that, one day, the burden of lost opportunities will be lighter as it is liberated by the experiences I had the good fortune of not missing.