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Story | Education
28 April 2021

In her own words: How studying abroad during a pandemic challenged me – and taught me vital lessons

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Yara Barakat, an Interior Design student at QF partner university Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar, was studying far from home in the US when COVID-19 struck. This is her story of how the experience tested her resilience.

During the spring semester of my junior year at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Qatar, I decided to spend a semester in the university’s main campus, as I’ve always wanted to experience a different educational experience. It would never have crossed my mind that my study abroad experience was going to be during a global pandemic.

Richmond

My experience at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia prior to COVID was typical of studying abroad. It was so exciting to experience the studio nature of Interior Design but within a completely different context, with new professors and new students.

As an interior design student, my educational experience was completely different than in Qatar. A lot of the classes were held out of class, where we would have site visits to see and analyze interiors for ourselves. Visiting museums and going to workshops were some other methods of learning that I thought were so much more effective for a design student like myself.

Yara Barakat

In terms of social life, I was introduced to other study abroad students, so we were all able experience the US as tourists. During my spring break, I traveled to New York with my friend, and at that time the coronavirus situation was quite bad everywhere, but most of the people in the US didn’t realize how serious it was – including myself. I remember my mom texting me telling me to be careful and to keep sanitizing, but at that time supplies of sanitizer were seemingly wiped out in every supermarket in the US.

That week was one of the hardest weeks of my life. I didn’t know what to do, stuck all by myself in a country where I didn’t know anyone

Yara Barakat

When I got back to Richmond, VCU announced that they were extending spring break for another week, but we didn’t think much of it. During that week, one after the other, my friends were traveling back to their countries. I am Palestinian, born in Jordan, and raised in Qatar, where I still live with my family. And with both Qatar and Jordan closing their borders due to the COVID-19 situation, I was unable to travel anywhere.

That week was one of the hardest weeks of my life. I didn’t know what to do, stuck all by myself in a country where I didn’t know anyone.

Washington D.C.

My parents got in contact with family friends that live in Washington D.C., where I could stay with them until I could travel. They hosted me gracefully and I will eternally be grateful for how they made me feel at home when I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.

I was so lucky to be able to stay with people that treated me as their daughter. They are my second family now

Yara Barakat

At that time, everything was overwhelming. With everything that was going on, I still had to be motivated to attend classes online and do the work required, and it was difficult to do this when nothing felt like it mattered. Then Ramadan and Eid came by, and I was so glad to have stayed with a Muslim family so I could feel the Ramadan and Eid vibes, as it was the first time I had spent this time away from my family.

After almost three months of staying with my family’s friends, I got the chance to travel to Jordan, and I was so happy to be able to travel as it felt like a step closer to my family in Qatar. I was so lucky to be able to stay with people that treated me as their daughter. They are my second family now.

Yara Barakat’s study-abroad experience during the pandemic took her from Virginia to Washington D.C. and Jordan before she could finally return to Qatar.

Jordan

I had to quarantine for a month in Jordan, where I spent two weeks in a hotel and then two weeks with my extended family – it was so nice to be able to finally be with family. This period of time was spent reflecting on my experience. I found that I felt like I lost myself in the process; I felt like a completely different person, and at that point I just wanted to be in the arms of my parents. After spending two months in Jordan, I was finally able to travel back to Qatar.

Despite this being one of the most difficult journeys I’ve had to face, I have definitely gained a lot of positives out of it

Yara Barakat

Qatar

Again, once I arrived in Qatar, I quarantined for two weeks, one in a hotel and one at home, and during my stay in the hotel, the fall semester of my senior year started.

After finishing my hotel quarantine, I was final reunited with my family. I had spent almost nine months away from my family, and finally being with them made me feel so safe and secure. I was finally home.

According to Yara, her experience has taught her “never to take anything for granted”.

Reflections

Despite this being one of the most difficult journeys I’ve had to face, I have definitely gained a lot of positives out of it.

I got closer to my family than ever. Distance really brought us closer. I never really realized how much of a blessing it was to be in a stable environment, being surrounded by people I loved. I learned patience, and I became more responsible.

And, most importantly, I learned to never take anything for granted – because everything in life is uncertain.

__Yara Barakat is an Interior Design student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. She is a Palestinian, born in Jordan, and raised in Qatar. She is an Honor’s student, awarded with the Dean’s list title, recognizing her high achievement and academic excellence. Driven by passion, Yara uses design to express herself and uses her creative freedom to enrich her vision of the future. __

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