Returning from Abroad Part Three: Featuring Ryley Zapien’s Journey Home from Australia

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Ryley Zapien (C’21) from Bellingham, Washington only had a short time to adjust to her new life on the other side of the world in Sydney, Australia where she was studying abroad before she was sent home due to COVID-19. Though the junior had only been in the country for a month and a half, she is greatly appreciative for the time she had there and is already looking forward to returning. 

A Brief Time Abroad

Zapien was eager to expand her world view by spending a semester in Australia. As a Biology of Global Health major, minoring in Studio Art, Zapien knew the value of understanding perspectives different from her own. 

Opera House, Sydney, Australia

“As a college student, our focus gets narrow so we forget that the world is bigger than our worries,” Zapien says. “I was hoping to learn more about diverse cultures and points of view by getting out of my comfort zone, and living a world away from home and the university.”

Australian school terms start later in the calendar year than in the United States, so Zapien did not begin her courses until late February. By the end of March, she was back home in Washington.

Zapien at wi

Out of the Frying Pan

Due to the time difference between Australia and the United States, Zapien did not receive the announcement to return home until the following morning. Though she was deeply saddened to leave after such a short time, Zapien knew it was the right thing to do. 

“Everything in Australia was still open at this point, so it felt strange to be returning to one of the places in the United States with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases at that time,” says Zapien. “But it was important to return home as quickly as possible for myself and others.”

Zapien was gold that she had to leave on Wednesday, March 18th and had booked a flight for the following Tuesday. Unfortunately, her flight, like many others, was cancelled, leaving Zapien only a few options. Eventually, she found a flight that left that Friday, March 20th, giving her just two days to pack. 

On her 24-hour return home, Zapien said that she no longer felt fully in reality. 

“I had a connecting red-eye from Honolulu that was incredibly tense,” says Zapien. “The plane was completely packed and you could tell that everyone was on edge.” 

After deboarding the plane, Zapien said she could feel a difference in the attitudes of the people around her. 

“In Australia, all of the restaurants were open and people were crowding the streets up until the day I left,” says Zapien. “in Bellingham, everything was closed. It felt like a different planet.”

Adapting to a New World

Even through the shift from her life down under to quarantining in Washington was sudden, Zapien said that Georgetown has made it easy to transition to online learning. In addition to her  remote courses through the University of Sydney, Zapien is also taking two Georgetown courses.

In addition to Intro to Philosophy, Zapien is also enrolled in COVID-19: Theory and Practice in the Time of Pandemic, which has been particularly engaging for Zapien, and has made her feel as though she is learning essential material she could apply in the future. 

In her reflections on the present, Zapien said that her biggest take away from this experience has been the importance of living in the moment. 

“It’s so crucial to cherish everything you have when you have it, because you never know when it might go away,” Zapien says. “Even though this experience ended before it was meant to, I am so grateful for it, and look forward to returning and making more memories in the future.”

-by Shelby Roller (G’19)


Click the links below to view parts two and three of our Returning Home from Abroad series

Returning Home from Abroad Part One: Delaney Corcoran Speaks to the Importance of a Positive Mindset

Returning from Abroad Part Two: Featuring Danielle Guida’s Journey Home from Italy