Study Abroad Stories: Abby Flickinger

Abby Flickinger was studying abroad in Argentina when the pandemic hit in March. Unlike most students who chose to come home at first opportunity, Flickinger has chosen to remain in Argentina for the year. We caught up with her to ask about what this process has been like.

Q: Where and when did you study abroad? Why did you choose this location (academic program, outside motivation, etc) ? 

A: I studied abroad in Córdoba, Argentina. I chose Cordoba to fulfill my Croft requirement of studying in Latin America for a semester. I also chose it because I wanted to go somewhere without tons of other students from Ole Miss so I could really improve my Spanish skills. I also wanted to forge my own path after studying in Bolivia the summer before with a large group of Ole Miss students and faculty. 

Q: Did the Covid-19 pandemic have a significant impact on your travels prior to departure from the US? What was your mindset at the time of departure? 

A: Thankfully I had been in Argentina for nearly two months before COVID-19 became an issue and lockdown began. When I left, I was nervous and excited to be traveling on my own just like everyone else, but the coronavirus wasn’t on my radar yet. 

Q: How would you describe your host country’s pandemic response? 

A: Argentina’s response was swift and aggressive. The whole country was locked down, borders were closed both internationally and between provinces. Police checkpoints were put up all over the country and city to prevent movement. We weren’t allowed to leave the house for anything other than grocery shopping or going to the pharmacy for more than two months. Things began to very slowly open up in May, but masks and social distancing are still very strictly enforced. Even now, in September, travel is still prohibited. 

Q: How was your study abroad experience different than it would have been without the pandemic (ie what were your expectations)? 

A: I had so many amazing plans that were quite literally thrown in the garbage. All of the plans I had to visit places in Argentina and in the region were taken away from me in the blink of an eye. I feel like I was robbed of my study abroad ‘experience’ in nearly every way. I couldn’t explore my own city for a long time, let alone go on all the bucket list trips I was supposed to remember for the rest of my life. Even more basic, all the nights out and coffee dates and dinner plans with friends that were normal before March were taken away from me. I spent a very long time feeling jaded and wronged by the world, like I was the greatest victim in the history of the world. I constantly asked ‘why me?’, and thinking about how this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would never get back — and it was all stolen away from me. 

Q: What was going through your mind when you made the decision to stay/leave your host country (reflect on outside forces and internal)?  Would you have done anything differently in hindsight? 

I had a twofold reason for staying. For context, the situation in Argentina was leaps and bounds better than in America. In March, cases in the country were only in the tens and hundreds daily- and even lower in my city- so fundamentally the situation was well contained and controlled. Not to mention, we all believed it would only be two or three weeks before it would all be over and we could go back to normal life. Traveling back to the U.S. scared me more than staying right where I was. I also had the feeling deep, deep down that it wasn’t time for me to leave yet, that there was some greater purpose or reason for me to be in Argentina. It was this knowing peace that kept me going through quarantine, which was easily the most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. 

 In hindsight, I wouldn’t do a single thing differently. My time here has broken me down and rebuilt me as a completely different person, a person I am proud to be. I have grown and matured in ways that would not have been possible had it not been for this experience. I also have some of my happiest memories from all those days locked up inside with my roommates. From celebrating Christmas in the middle of May, to pandemic haircuts, to the first night we were allowed to go out to dinner again. We did it all together and became a family. I have so much newfound perspective. My neighbors and the people in my community became my friends and we supported each other through it all. I learned so much about what it means to be Argentinian and a part of this community and culture. I don’t feel like I studied in Córdoba, I truly live here.

Q: Has your experience abroad during the pandemic affected your outlook on travel, healthcare, or anything else? 

A: I’ve learned to be critical of the government. I’ve learned that wisdom, knowledge, and community are not created in just one place and then dispersed to the rest of the world. The people and places that are disregarded or looked down on in the United States are infinitely more worthy and wonderful than they are treated. I’ve learned to live in a culture distinct from my own, and how to love it for what it is. So much so that I elect to remain in Argentina for an extra semester. I’ve found a new home and become a person far better than the one I once worried I’d lost the opportunity to become. It was so far from easy, but the peace, growth, and understanding my time here has given me is truly beyond compare.