Spring 2020 Stories: Meet Claire Henson

Program and Location:

University of Adelaide; Adelaide, Australia


Textile Engineering with a minor in Environmental Science

If you were already in your host country when you were recalled home, what are some of your favorite memories from abroad?

I got to experience Adelaide for about a month before I was recalled home, so, thankfully, I had a few great adventures before returning. My favorite was when my flatmates and I traveled in a campervan to Mount Flinders Ranges where we hiked an 11 miles loop and found the peak of the mountain. Moreover, we got to do this on International Women’s Day, which was a fun way to grow closer as friends. We saw many wild kangaroos and even had one approach us that evening at our campsite trying to eat our dinner!

Another great memory I have from this trip is going to one of the Adelaide Fringe events called Fire Gardens. Adelaide has a giant botanical garden which usually is beautiful on its own and is where I did a lot of studying (and took many naps), but for this event, the gardens were lit by thousands of lanterns in extremely artistic ways.

Lastly, I will always remember the amazing times my friends and I had on the beaches of Adelaide. From playing beach volleyball to watching the sunset, we had a great time. I will forever be grateful for the few weeks that I had with those girls and I am so excited to return to Australia one day soon.

What self-care strategies have you used to process the emotions around having your study abroad experience cut short or cancelled?

When first hearing that NC State was calling me home, I was extremely stressed because many of my friends were getting similar messages from their universities and no one knew what to do. We obviously wanted to stay, but this pandemic is something unlike anything we’ve ever experienced, so hearing the word “indefinitely” regarding our stay abroad, I got nervous. I stressed for the last two weeks I had as I tried to make my decision to stay or not. It was really difficult, but being with my flatmates really helped. We took the time to make sure we got all our bucket list items done that we could and really focused on spending quality time together before we departed. We cried, laughed, and packed together. It was honestly a great bonding experience and I’m so glad that I had them. I tried to focus on the positives like seeing my family earlier than expected and being thankful for getting to go abroad at all. Once home, I had to quarantine in my room for two weeks away from my family, so I had lots of time to process. With this, I found myself posting a lot about my trip on social media and reaching out to my overseas friends to make sure we were still in touch. From then, I just keep trying to look forward to when I can go back and think that I am not the only one who was affected by this. At this point, I am just thankful for my health and the safety of others, and that’s what keeps me positive.

Are you continuing classes online? What are some of the challenges to distance learning and how are you overcoming them?

I am continuing my classes online through the University of Adelaide. Originally, I was worried about having required meeting times for classes because of the time difference, but thankfully I can watch my lectures at any time and my professors are extremely flexible for scheduled events like tests. As this is my first time doing so many online courses, I’ve found many new challenges regarding finishing the semester.

First, it is extremely difficult to find the motivation to focus on school. I don’t have anyone around me taking the same classes and there is no one to hold me accountable. Further, there is no social aspect to school, so it doesn’t get me as excited to learn.

To combat this, I’ve started to make a weekly schedule with all my lectures and assignments spread out throughout the week. Additionally, I’ve found it much more difficult to talk to my professors. Instead of asking a question during office hours or after class, I have to set up a Zoom meeting or go through Piazza. Thankfully, the teachers are extremely flexible and have been good to compromise and email with me. In the end, I think we all know that this time is not easy for anyone and I am just thankful to still be on track for graduation.

How are you staying connected to the NC State and/or PackAbroad community during social distancing?

I am staying connected to NC State during social distancing my talking to my friends every day through Zoom or FaceTime. Sometimes, we even play games like Mancala, Would You Rather, or 20 Questions to keep ourselves busy. Even though there’s not much exciting news, its good to know that I’m not alone in this experience.

Further, I stay active by using the Zoom fitness classes that Wellness and Recreation is offering. I miss taking Barre class in person, but its fun to join everyone every Thursday to get some exercise.

Lastly, I am still involved with Engineering Ambassadors, so even while we cannot work right now, we do group zoom every now and then to keep up with how everyone is doing. In general, just talking to people and getting some social time is really what’s keeping me connected. This will make for some pretty great stories in the future and I know that will definitely keep us all intertwined.

Are there any resources you would like to share with other students in a similar situation?

Some of my favorite resources to use to have fun and stay healthy are online games or Chrome extensions. First, I love Netflix Party, where you and your friends can share a screen and chat about the show or movie you’re watching. I binged all of Tiger King through this and it made it so much more fun! Second, I have used photo roulette, which is an app, similar to Kahoot, that goes through the photos on every person in the game’s phone and pops up a photo from one camera roll. From there, players guess who’s phone the photo came from and try to do it the quickest! It makes for some good laughs and gets everyone to talk about good times instead of focusing on the bad. Lastly, I really love using this time to do something I wouldn’t usually get to during school. I have focused on crafting, playing the piano, and reading. It really helps pass the time and keep my brain activated in a productive way. I would highly recommend all these activities and resources as they’ve helped me a lot.

What have you learned about yourself during this time? How have you grown in this experience?

During this time, I’ve learned that I’m a lot more resilient than I thought. I was halfway across the world during a pandemic, and I figured it out. I made a smart decision, got everything in order, and stayed safe. Now that I have experienced one of the hardest travel scenarios possible, I know that I can do anything. Further, I have learned that I need social interaction to stay happy, but less than I expected. I know that I am an extrovert, so I love being around people. I definitely miss coming back to my Wolf Ridge apartment and having dinner with my roommates from last semester, but I have grown in the sense that I am ok with eating alone now. I’m ok with not having someone to talk to every second while still appreciating people’s presence even more than before.

Do you hope to take advantage of other abroad experiences in the future – ie studying abroad again, interning, volunteering, or working abroad, before or after graduation?

I definitely want ot take advantage of other abroad experiences in my lifetime. I hope to intern at least in a different part of the country and I travel with the GREEN Program over winter break to Greenland. Then, after graduation, I have some big plans. Before I settle down somewhere, I want to make it to Greece, Portugal, Germany, Latvia, and back to Australia.


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