I was… studying in Prague, Czech Republic

It was 2:30pm and I had just walked back to my dorm in Prague where I was studying that semester. I got back to my desk, got on AIM as usual to check in with friends when a friend began unraveling something happening back home. Her facts were sporadic, but no doubt horror resounded from her words. All I could do was refresh CNN and MSNBC for any news on what was actually happening.

As news of the shooting leaked, the gravity unfolded and reality hit. A familiar last name -a friend’s sister had been killed. Another- a brother in my fraternity, whom had joined that semester, was missing. Emails of her whereabouts went on for the next 24+ hours through our listserv. She was later identified among the victims. From the rotating images flooding the media, I recognized a friend being carried out of Norris Hall. She survived. One by one, details unfolded and people were identified to the world.

The next 48hours I camped in the dorm lobby, staring at CNN’s endless images surrounding my campus. The oddity of seeing such a familiar and personal place displayed worldwide was unexplainable. I Skyped constantly with family and friends, and students from other schools reached out, but I felt helpless. I could not be there. I could not help. I could not grieve with my friends. I could not hug or console them. But I also felt guilty. I felt I didn’t have a right to be as upset or distressed by the events because I was not physically there.

The air had changed…encouraged us to be better citizens of the world

Then a different reality hit. After a few days, the rest of the world had moved on. It was already “yesterday’s news”. I was angry and upset and it was hard to comprehend that, although my world was frozen in turmoil, others went about business as usual. Such events did not hold the same weight outside Blacksburg, outside the US, and it forced me to view things from an outsider’s perspective.

I cut my semester short and went back home but the arrival on campus was haunting. All of the memorials and signs, it was all surreal. It was no longer a carefree college environment. The air had changed. Everyone changed that day. But through this tragedy, that change brought some good. It strengthened us, brought people together, made people understand the fragility of life and loved ones, and encouraged us to be better citizens of the world. To live for 32.