Caught in the void. When “I want to stay,” turns to “Why haven’t we been sent home?”

By Meg Friel

Contributing Writer

I didn’t know stress until it hit me in the final hours of my study abroad trip to Indonesia, stuck in a rural village with no cell service, trying to book my third plane ticket home after just learning my program was cancelled. 

Photo by Meg Friel

“Scenic view of Buddha overlooking mountain peaks of Java from the top of the Borobudur Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the world.”

 I’d spent the weeks leading up to my last days in the program doing my best to remain somewhat oblivious to the only thing the rest of the world was talking about. In a remote, rural village in Bali, it was easy to maintain a willful ignorance as the people around me – the teachers leading my program, my host family, the president of Indonesia himself – acted like life was carrying on as normal. I’d come home every night to dinner with my host mother and sister, and graze over cooked rice and tempe, chatting about our days, when I’d bring up half nervously the fact that my school had extended spring break because of Coronavirus. I was met with blank stares and a small murmur of “oohh’s” before we carried on conversation. The next day, I’d up the ante with news that school was online for the next few weeks, and may be cancelled altogether, only to be met with the same underwhelming response, not sure they understood the severity of the situation. This continued until I walked in for dinner one night to my host mother staring at me with wide eyes. “Tom Hanks has Corona. This isn’t good.” 

The reality of the world slowly started to creep up on me as I watched my friends get plucked from their programs abroad one by one until I was the last man standing. I’d wake up in the morning to find alarming texts from my friends and family asking me when I was being sent home, news reports on the declaration of a national pandemic coming from the United States, and the addition of several more cases reaching Bali day by day. The narrative quickly turned from “I want to stay” to “Why haven’t we been sent home?” I was in a constant internal battle between desperately wanting to stay and a nagging urgency to leave. 

Photo By Meg Friel
“SIT Study Abroad group spent the morning learning to farm in the rice paddies of rural village in Bali.”

The Sunday of the week that we would be sent home, we were meant to leave our homestays for a five day trip to a rural village in Bali when we were asked to meet up with the director of our program  for a meeting about the Coronavirus before we left. We sat down expecting to hear the news that we’d be the final few to finally be sent home, when she told us that we’d been asked by SIT to continue as normal until further notice, and that we were planning on finishing the program in May. 

Several hands shot up, questioning the safety of this decision. Many of us had received news from our loved ones that the borders may be closing altogether. Plane ticket prices were rising by the minute. Connecting flights were hard to find because international flights were canceled. 

Photo By Meg Friel
Groups of tourists file into Prambanan Temple, an ancient Hindu temple on the island of Java, Indonesia

Another question burning in the back of everyone’s mind was: What’s the reality of actually getting sick in Bali? Given our status as white Americans, we’d likely be cared for above any Balinese people – a slap in the face to those who had been so selfless towards us over the past two months.

The endless questions and inevitable result of our program ending lead many of us to book flights before the announcement of our program being cancelled two days later, after one final pleasant morning of farming in the rice paddies.