From Project Partners to Friends

From Project Partners to Friends

By Elle Prillaman, Roanoke, Virginia

The familiar is easy, comfortable, and sometimes tempting. The unfamiliar, though, gives you an opportunity to learn and to grow.

I was studying abroad in Vienna when the coronavirus crisis cut my much-anticipated study abroad experience short. In a hurry, my friends and I packed our belongings and boarded the next flight home, to be quarantined with our families for the duration of the pandemic. Shock, and then loss. I didn’t process my emotions until I returned home and then, I grieved for the experiences I missed and the places I didn’t have the chance to see.

I am incredibly grateful for my family’s health and that we are all together right now, but it wasn’t until I was partners with May that I realized how fortunate I am.

For one of our distance learning classes, we had a project in which we needed a partner to do an assignment. I could have chosen one of the girls I had traveled from the US with, but I didn’t. I opted for the unfamiliar. May was in my class and I asked her to be my partner. When we called to work together, she told me she was from China. She hasn’t been allowed to return home, so she’s been living in her single apartment in Vienna. She leaves only to go to the grocery store, spends her time in isolation and breaks up her studying by cooking her meals, talking to her family, and spending time on her back patio.

Talking to May gave me perspective. Her positivity and strength in the face of adversity were awe-inspiring. Before talking to her, I hadn’t considered being separated from my family or living in total and complete isolation. I admire her dedication to her schoolwork and her ability to take care of herself and her mental health during this time.

May and I evolved from project partners to friends and I am incredibly grateful I have a friend like her. She was a light in a time of darkness, making me excited for the other partner projects we had. More than that, she gave me someone I looked forward to catching up with. I learned a lot from May, but the unfamiliar was more than a learning experience or an opportunity for growth. The unfamiliar rewarded me with a friendship, and for that, I’ll always be thankful.