Monday, June 24, 2024

Guest Essay: Spartans abroad feel disconnected, lean on community

March 13, 2023
<p>A vigil sits outside the fence of the Union on Feb. 20, 2023. The day before, &#x27;Spartan Sunday&#x27; was held on campus where students and the community came together to take back the campus after a mass shooting took place on Feb. 13, 2023.</p>

A vigil sits outside the fence of the Union on Feb. 20, 2023. The day before, 'Spartan Sunday' was held on campus where students and the community came together to take back the campus after a mass shooting took place on Feb. 13, 2023.

Journalism juniors Kayla Nelsen and Ashley Zhou both previously worked as reporters for MSU’s student-led independent newspaper, The State News. This spring semester, they are studying abroad, but in different parts of the world: Kayla in Athens and Ashley in London.

Together, Kayla and Ashley stitch together their experiences following the shooting in East Lansing — continuing their daily routines despite the ongoing panic at home and how it has impacted them about a month later.

Kayla: 7 a.m. in Athens, Greece; 12 a.m. in East Lansing, Michigan

“Did you see what happened?” 

Those were the first words I heard from my roommate here in Greece, a fellow Spartan, as I rolled over to turn off my alarm just before 7 in the morning on Feb. 14. Meanwhile in East Lansing — seven hours behind Athens — Alexandria Verner, Arielle Anderson and Brian Fraser had all passed away and five more of my peers were fighting for their lives. The suspect had not yet been located after leaving campus. 

Confused, I checked my phone to find dozens of missed calls and texts from family and friends. My first instinct was to call my mom, who turned up the TV volume so I could listen in on the live news with my family. My head was spinning as I quickly contacted all of my closest friends, praying that they were safe. Several of them were barricaded in their apartment bathroom and the rest were safe and far from campus. Relief washed over me, yet knowing they were O.K. did not stop my hands from shaking and my cold sweat from dripping. 

I just could not understand. How could something so horrific, so hateful happen to the place and the people I call home? The same home that my heart has been pulled 5,000 miles back to every day that I have been away? 

Ashley: 8 a.m. in London, United Kingdom; 3 a.m. in East Lansing, Michigan 

London’s brisk morning sun pierced through the gap between my curtains. At 8 a.m. my alarm went off, the familiar tone jarring me awake; I grabbed at my phone to desperately bring silence. Unlocking my phone, texts, article headlines and Tweets sprawled across my screen.

“Are you OK?” 

“Hey, where are you right now?”  

“3 students killed, 5 critically wounded at Michigan State University”

Back at home in East Lansing, it was 3 a.m. My lazy eyes darted across the screen. 

“Suspect in fatal Michigan State University shooting found dead”

“A shooter?” “Where are my friends? Are they safe?”

“How could this happen?”

“It just happens … but why here? Why at MSU?”

After several “I’m O.K. Are you?” texts exchanged, my next question was “What is my next step?” But three Spartans were gone and five others were critically injured. They were stripped from us in just seconds.

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A “typical” day abroad, a conversation

Ashley: The only word I could describe Feb. 14 is numb. I had no choice but to get up and start my day. 

Kayla: Leaving my apartment that morning was like stepping into a world of oblivion. 

Ashley: My daily routine didn’t stop. It couldn’t stop, because to everyone else’s knowledge today was just another normal Tuesday. I needed to go to the gym, take the tube down to Central London for Valentine’s Day brunch plans and attend a three hour lecture.

Kayla: The news had not yet traveled to my non-Michigander study abroad peers, much less the Greek students or professors at my university. As my professor lectured about the ancient Spartans, ironically, my mind was miles away. 

Ashley: Throughout the day I lazily drifted through brunch and class without a thought. Instead, my eyes were stuck on my laptop and phone as I refreshed Twitter every few minutes for updates back from home. 

Kayla: At MSU, I am an Union evening study session regular. I can picture the group of students at the table next to me, discussing a class project. Or the student at one of the high tables by the windows, ferociously typing an essay on their laptop. I can smell whiffs of chicken nuggets and fries from the food court and can hear the beep of the register at the Sparty’s behind me. But then there is the shooter, filling the room with terror and fear.

Ashley: How was I supposed to walk throughout my day normally when no one is back in my home, East Lansing? No one here cared or acted differently. The shooting that was grappling with me the whole day wasn’t even a blink of a thought to anyone else. 

Kayla: I could not get this distorted image out of my mind as I attempted to go about my day like normal — it was just a typical Tuesday here in Athens, after all. 

Ashley: I made my daily walk to the gym, picked up an issue of “The Evening Standard,” London’s local, free (tabloidy) newspaper, per routine, grabbed a seat on the tube and flipped through the pages, usually seeking the crosswords and sudoku. 

Kayla: Later that day, I went to the gym in an attempt to get some mental and emotional relief through movement. As I lifted dumbbells and powered through jump squats, a hopeful part of me waited for the TVs to show coverage about MSU. 

Ashley: A 3-inch by 1-inch blurb of a headline caught my attention in the corner of the page: “Three killed as masked gunman opens fire at U.S. university.” The headline literally took my breath away. Yes, it was featured, but there was no photo; “Michigan State” wasn’t even in the headline. It was just a university — just another U.S. university shooting. 

Kayla: I was left feeling disappointed and isolated when it was only Greek news, just like every other day at the American College of Greece gym.

Ashley: My eyes darted over my newspaper to look at other commuting Londoners on the tube. No one seemed shocked or worried. They just sat there, normally as they do, peacefully reading away.

A letter to East Lansing, our home

Kayla: Friends and family have told me they are so glad I was far away from campus that night, but I want nothing more than to be in East Lansing right now, holding my people, placing flowers in front of the Rock, honoring the three students we lost at vigils, crying with and comforting my fellow Spartans.

As a journalist, I long to listen to and share the stories of my peers. But I have read the stories about Lansing businesses donating resources and time to victims and their families and students. I have watched the GoFundMe’s for the injured victims surpass their goals. I have listened to James Harden and Broadway stars send their uplifting words to East Lansing. Despite the distance, one thing is clear to me: We hurt together and we heal together. Right now, MSU is encapsulated by an unshakeable amount of love that will last forever. I feel it from 5,000 miles away and I can only hope that any Spartan, near or far, can feel it too.

Ashley: Local journalists and The State News student journalists, my community, peers and friends, have been tirelessly working. I can only sympathize with the pain they must be going through, a pain that I can’t even imagine I would be able to go through. We have seen tragic news every day, but to take photos, interview and report on their own hurting community is an unimaginable experience. I’m so incredibly thankful for The State News, my community and my friends, back home.

It has now been about a month since that day, when all of Spartan’s lives have changed. Campus will never be the same for any of us, even when the leaves fall in autumn to flowers blossoming in the spring. It’s difficult to keep moving through, but reading articles of survivors' victory stories has lifted my spirits. Even from miles away, it’s heartwarming to see the Spartan community come together and support each other through difficult times. After all, that’s what Spartans are about. Spartans will keep on moving forward, no matter the circumstances, together.


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