Looming towers of Parisian architecture cast shadows over his head. He ducks into his normal bakery and snatches a baguette. After a good sniff and a longing gaze, he hands over 1 euro to the cashier and exits.
Outside he glances around at the splendor of Paris, his home for the semester. He bites into the warm flakey baguette just as a whimper from his dog suddenly awakens him. His eyes burst open to the bottom of his brother’s bunk bed.
Living in Paris had been a dream all his life. He finally had his chance, but it was confiscated by COVID-19.
Alec Vida is a 19-year-old student at George Washington University in Washington D.C. who studies international affairs. From January to March 2019, Vida fulfilled a lifelong dream by studying at Universite Paris VII Saint-Denis and Universite Paris x Nanterre.
Since his first visit to Paris in 2004, Vida knew it was his goal to one day live there. Vida’s mother, Anne, is a native of Loire Valley, France. Throughout his life, Vida has taken the gift of his mom’s fluent French to heart. He dedicated himself to AP French in high school and continues to study it as a minor in college.
Vida was on track to graduate in only 3 years, but is now set to complete undergraduate studies in three years. After enjoying his brief time studying in Paris, he decided he will one day attend graduate school in Europe.
“My favorite thing about studying abroad in Paris was getting to talk to my family more and getting in touch with my French heritage,” Vida says fondly with both lips curled up, looking into the distance as if seeing a past life.
Since COVID-19 began spreading around the world, students abroad, like Vida, begrudgingly made the pilgrimage back to their hometowns. A life once wrought with freedom is now confined to the indoors. No clubbing, no outings, no restaurants, no baguettes and absolutely no human contact.
The now housebound Vida has returned to his love of running to fill the void of traveling. He pushes himself to run a half marathon around his neighborhood once a week.
Life in Los Alamitos
Paris for Los Alamitos, California is a gloomy trade. For one, there’s the possibility of running into former frenemies from childhood.
When he’s not running, he can be found social distance picnicking with his neighbors. Julia Ungaro, Lindsey Osaki-Van Loy and Sophia Wackerman have been close friends of Vida’s since their sophomore year of high school.
Osaki-Van Loy and Vida have an especially close bond. She, a brilliant premed, attends Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The two are close enough in location to one another on the East Coast that they get to experience each other’s college lives.
“That was probably one of my favorite times when I first visited him in D.C. That was my first time in the city and he just got to show me his favorite spots,” says Osaki-Van Loy.
Osaki-Van Loy has noticed a big change in Vida’s personality when he is at school.College can be a sanctuary where students don’t feel accepted at home.“At school, he is more laidback,” Osaki-Van Loy said with a grimace. “He’s not so uptight about certain things. He likes to go out more and spend time out rather than isolating himself.”
Part of t Vida’s study abroad program was traveling to different places. The students traveled to Craon, St. Maolo, Mont St. Michel and Versailles in France. Outside of France, they visited Brussels, Belgium.
“It was a big shift going from living in a city and being with all my friends and being able to go out and drink and all the things like that,” mentions Vida.
Back in Southern California, Vida often turns to gaming, like playing League of Legends with his brother, and watching gamers on Twitch. Other times he sunbathes in the backyard or hangs out with his neighbors.
The neighbors, of course, being Ungaro, Wackerman and Osaki-Van Loy.
Sitting six feet apart, he and his friends chat, giggle, catch up and maybe even watch an episode or two of “Dance Moms.” The friends argue over the show’s drama of the week—who should’ve won the group dance that week or whether or not Chloe is indeed better than Maddie.
Shifting from a summer in lockdown to back to school
Coming back from time abroad was a difficult adjustment for most. Coping with the whiplash of immense freedom, then returning to a stay-at-home mandate had it’s pitfalls.
Vida finished the semester online, making the adjustment from very hands-on classes to Zoom not to mention initial jet lag.
Once California began to lift restrictions, Vida began working as a restaurant host in Long Beach.
He wishes he and his friends would’ve spent more time exploring if they had known what was to come.
“Yeah, it’s unfortunate that my spring semester [was]ruined,” says Vida. “But it’s like, ‘oh this is going to be much longer.’”
George Washington University moved classes online and terminated student housing contracts for the fall 2020 semester. Vida has decided to take the semester off to focus on an internship with the state department. Eyes set on graduation in Fall 2021, he is determined to combine his heritages to become a dedicated civil servant.