On 8 March, barely a month ago, I felt like the happiest person on earth. This semester, I finally settled in, felt like I had a great group of friends, and wasn't so overwhelmed by academics anymore. I was excited about my master's thesis and was preparing to move to Washington, DC, for a summer internship that I could only dream of a year earlier.
On 9 March, the first shock: my contact at the summer internship emailed me that they could not sign my work authorization request at this time due to increased uncertainty around COVID-19. I was bummed, but my friends encouraged me to send out some more applications to possibly stay at the university and do research instead. I pulled myself up and sent out several emails as well as applications, but soon received the same response from all of them: "Sorry, we are currently freezing all hiring processes." I knew I had a deadline to hand in the work authorization request just two weeks later and still had some hope that maybe I could push the deadline, or maybe I could convince my original internship to sign the request even with the prospect of canceling the internship later. I noticed that I was trying everything to hold on to the illusion of a perfect spring and summer, while everywhere around me things just crumbled. Every new day brought new bad news. I was confident that I wanted to stay in the US—I loved it there, and even with the university closed, I still had some friends who were also staying. I asked myself three times whether I wanted to return, and every time the answer was no. But then I was asked a fourth time when Austria organized a repatriation flight and informed us that if we were interested in returning, we should take this opportunity now. The gravity of this action, together with the embassy's voice in my ear ("we recommend that you return to Austria as soon as possible") had me thinking again—and, frankly, panicking. All of the sudden I felt alone and desperate, saw my priorities shift, and was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of unknowns.