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When Life Gives You Lemons — Kailea's Story

If you’re like me, you probably cried when COVID-19 ruined all of your exciting plans for this year. But for 20 year old Kailea Baggett, 2020 wasn’t enough to cancel her nou mindset.


On December 31st 2019, the “spontaneous” nature-lover assumed she would be spending the new year studying abroad in Auckland, New Zealand.“I definitely thought I was going to be in New Zealand for six months living my best life—traveling, hiking and surfing… but that didn’t happen.” Today Kailea shares what it was like being in a foreign country when the Coronavirus hit, and what happened after she was forced to abruptly return home to Virginia. So if this crazy year has you feeling down, you’ll want to keep reading. Kailea’s story of optimism, adaptability, and true determination will make you believe in the power of positive thinking.


On February 16th, 2020, Kailea landed in scenic New Zealand—her new home for the next semester. Or so she thought. The marketing major and surf instructor wasted no time exploring the Pacific island paradise. Within the first couple of weeks, Kailea found herself taking spontaneous road trips with new friends, staying in countryside hostels, and hiking some of New Zealand’s most beautiful mountains. On the 2-day trek over Mount Taranaki (pictured), Kailea walked 23 miles through tumultuous wind and rain. But waking up to a picturesque mountain sunrise, after spending the night in a small backwoods hut, made the difficult trip worth every step. It’s that same enthusiasm and tenacity that helped Kailea during the next, unforeseen chapter of her trip.


Kailea and friends climbing Mount Taranaki


March 2020 will go down in history as a month of confusion, uncertainty, and chaos. As the Coronavirus found its way out of China and began spreading rapidly throughout the world, thousands of exchange students became anxious over the same question… “What was going to happen next?After only two weeks of studying abroad in New Zealand, several of Kailea’s colleagues received the dreaded phone call to return back to the United States. One-by-one, everybody was being told to evacuate immediately. Kailea knew she would be next, and after only four weeks into her trip, she “finally got the email.”


It was a Friday when George Mason University told her she needed to return home by Sunday otherwise they would not refund her tickets. With only 48 hours remaining, Kailea recalls the first thing she did after receiving the bad news—“I called my Mom and said I have to come home... but before I book my return ticket, I need to book a ticket to go skydiving first.” So on Saturday Kailea jumped out of an aeroplane... and on Sunday she jumped on an airplane. Now that’s the kind of story you tell your kids one day.


Kailea skydiving in New Zealand


Upon her arrival home, Kailea was confined to her bedroom for 14 days—a drastic change from the open air she could have been enjoying in New Zealand. She admits “It was hard to adjust.” Like so many other college students, the next several months in quarantine were spent attending tedious Zoom lectures in pajamas. As the virus showed no end in sight—international travel back to New Zealand seemed unrealistic in the near future. 


Instead of feeling sorry for herself and waiving the white flag, Kailea took this challenge as an opportunity for redirection. She’s a firm believer that “Everything happens for a reason and sometimes plans will change into something even better.” That’s why she made the life changing decision to continue her online classes on another island… “Now I’m moving to Hawaii which I’m really excited about. As much as this has been a crazy year, I’m glad that I have this chance to go.” In hindsight, Kailea knows that if COVID-19 hadn’t “canceled” her plans to live in New Zealand, this new and exciting chapter in Oahu wouldn’t be possible. Aloha-ha 2020—take that!


Between skydiving and moving to Hawaii on a whim, I asked Kailea how she remained so optimistic despite the setbacks she experienced. She told me, “I try not to dwell on one thing—as much as it might upset me, I try to let it go. I have to keep reminding myself to keep up with that positive energy because I know that If I feed myself negative thoughts, it's only going to bring me down more.” I don’t know about you, but when I first heard Kailea’s story it inspired me to change my own outlook on this unprecedented year. After all, we can’t control what happens to us—but just like Kailea, we can control how we react. Maybe all of our big plans have been canceled to make way for something even greater? There’s still three months left of 2020, so let’s rewrite the way this story ends. Are you ready to take control of your nou mindset


Kailea relaxing in Hawaii



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