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Student Blogs/Nicolas in Belgium

In March, I made the sad decision to leave Brussels due to the current pandemic around the world, Covid-19. Originally, this blog was going to be written on a 12-hour long haul flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Bogota, Colombia. It is now a little over a month later and instead of being in Bogota, I am in Ottawa. Instead of writing this on an uncomfortable airplane seat, I am currently sitting on a sofa, with a bunny as a companion, while watching one of the many tv shows I am currently bingeing.

The intention of this blog is to share my experiences with the current Covid-19 situation and how it affected my exchange. In no way is it my intention to judge or criticize the actions of governments, institutions, companies, and/or individuals.

a photo of Grand Place
The first and last place I have a picture of in Brussels, Grand Place.

Thinking back to the couple of days leading up to my departure, it seems unreal how fast things were changing in a matter of hours. Those who originally said they were going to stay, were now texting me saying that they were also leaving. Grocery stores were practically empty and other stores closed. Within a small window of time, I had to make a decision and pack everything up, close bank and phone accounts and be prepared to leave Belgium. My original plan was to return to Colombia and wait out the pandemic there before returning to Canada. As I was finishing packing, the President of Colombia announced that the borders would be closing completely at midnight, including to Colombian citizens. The flight I had was scheduled to arrive after midnight, therefore, I made the decision to book another flight from Brussels to Ottawa instead.

After a sleepless night, I was at the Brussels airport waiting to board a flight en route to Ottawa with a connection in Montreal, one day before Canada was set to close its borders. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t feeling extremely overwhelmed on that flight, being one of the very few people who did not have a Canadian passport and who was not returning home.

Nicolas leaning against the railing with his eyes closed and tongue out.
A picture of me after climbing 300+ stairs in Budapest perfectly representing how exhausted I felt when I got back to Ottawa.

When the flight attendant got on the speaker and said, “ladies and gentlemen welcome to the Ottawa International Airport,” a mix of emotions took over. For the first time in what seemed like days, I could finally take a deep breath and relax a little, but at the same time a wave of uncertainty hit me and for some reason, I felt out of place. I was back in Ottawa, at a friend’s apartment, with my friend’s bunny as a roommate and prepared to self-quarantine for two weeks by myself. Getting used to the time difference, getting used to online courses, plus  making sure I didn’t accidentally kill my friend’s pet bunny definitely made my first few days of isolation difficult and stressful. I have now gotten into more of a routine and have finally managed to adjust back to life here in Ottawa.

Moments like these are a great reminder that life is extremely unpredictable. In my opinion, part of being human is wanting to be confident, wanting to be ready for any situation that presents itself, but unfortunately, I think that we were all blindsided by this. It is important to realize that we might not have control over everything that happens to us, but we do have control over how we react. Refrain yourself from only thinking about the negative side of the situation. Reflecting on this past month back in Ottawa I will be honest in admitting that I was definitely not productive at all. I have been sleeping more than I care to admit, and I have been eating for what seems like a family of four, but that’s okay. It’s okay because I have also been in close contact with many friends and family from around the world that I haven’t had a chance to speak to and catch up with this much in years. I have proven to myself that I can handle stressful and challenging situations as an individual and it has been a reminder that I am unbelievably lucky to have incredible friends and family that are always willing to lend a helping hand.

I wrote this blog not only to share my experience, but also to convince myself that the amount of sleeping, eating and procrastinating that I have been doing is completely acceptable. Yes, I have been reflecting and looking back at stressful and difficult times, but despite that, I keep being reminded about all the good, positive, and fun experiences that I had while I was abroad. Belgium and Europe will forever be a place where I had the chance to create so many unforgettable memories and I am excited to share all of that with you in my next post!

Please make sure take care of your physical and mental health and let’s try to keep helping those that most need it while we continue to adjust to this new normal. I hope that whoever is reading this is safe and healthy and to those who have reached out and helped in any way that they can, I truly thank you and appreciate it. Congratulations to all of those who have successfully finished this academic year, good luck to those writing exams and I hope to see all of you on campus or around Ottawa as soon as possible!

Nicolas is a third-year Bachelor of International Business (BIB) student studying abroad in Brussels, Belgium.

Sprott School of Business
Carleton University
1125 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON, K1S 5B6
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