As you may have heard, COVID-19 is all we ever talk about anymore. For us students, many parts of life that simply make us students have been taken away from us, and the shared sacrifice is all in hope of getting back to everything that makes us happy, unless happiness involves watching paint dry because you live in the country and there is little internet.
Some have had to sacrifice more than others. Study abroad students were hit hard, considering their once optimistic views of seeing the world and its many interesting people has been reduced to self-quarantine at home –– and online classes.
“I never wanted to leave –– it was the most amazing time of my life,” said Ciara Summersgill, a junior water, resources, policy and management major who studied in Ireland for spring break.
The coronavirus did not bother students in Europe much until it got worse, but many felt the future effects on the backburner as they noticed gradual changes in everyday life.
“Everyone didn’t really seem bothered at all (at first),” said Caleigh McDonough, a sophomore finance major who was studying this semester in Prague. “As the weeks went on, I saw more and more people wearing masks and more talk on the news about the virus.”
Some students felt an inevitable end to their semester abroad.
“A week before I officially went home, I had a feeling we weren’t going to be in Barcelona for much longer, but I did not expect it to end as quickly as it did, because life just seemed so normal there,” said Emma Buckle, a junior hospitality and tourism management major studying a semester in Spain.
On Wednesday, March 11, President Trump declared a travel ban on most of Europe, which has since been extended to all of Europe and other countries across the world. This came as a confusing and unsettling message to many Virginia Tech students studying abroad.
“One of the guys (in our group) woke us up at two in the morning to tell us about the travel ban,” McDonough said. “It was very vague, so we thought we had 48 hours to get back in the U.S. Everyone freaked out, called their parents and immediately booked flights.”
For Buckle, the situation was like something out of a movie.
“Everyone was in the streets on their phones either texting their parents, calling them or booking flights home immediately,” Buckle said. “I went home that night at three in the morning, packed up my stuff, barely slept and left for the airport. My roommate had left for an earlier flight and told me the check-in lines were at least an hour long.”
Due to the urgency of the situation, it appeared that a large portion of people rushing to get to the airport and back to the United States were also studying abroad.
“When I arrived (at the airport) feeling extremely overwhelmed and sad, the check-in line had over 150 study abroad students in line as well,” Buckle said. “It seemed like the airport was mostly full of (us).”
With uncertainty, fear and confusion in the air, some airports were just as you may have imagined them to be.
“There was a general disruption at the airport,” said Emily Bowlin, a senior studying criminology who was also in Ireland for spring break. “Workers at the airport said customs were a madhouse, and that we (had to) hurry there as fast as we could. People, including us, were lined up and getting antsy before the (gate) was even open.”
According to Bowlin, there was a huge amount of confusion and inconsistency while they tried to board a plane.
“One of our leaders, Jose, was separated from the rest of our group for further questioning,” Bowlin said. “He said everyone that went before him in that process got denied. As we went through customs, some of us got questioned hard about our travels and possible symptoms, while others barely got asked where we traveled.”
Summersgill, who was on the same trip, was concerned about the sheer amount of people.
“It was very stressful in the airport, because we were in such close quarters with so many people,” Summersgill said. “It took about three hours to get through customs and security.”
At the time, it may seem that once their planes touched down in the United States after such a hectic and confusing 48 hours, everyone would be extremely relieved. This was not the case for some.
“The only thing I felt when we landed in Dulles was upset,” McDonough said. “None of us wanted to have to come home that early.”
Bowlin noted that home is not necessarily a safe haven anymore due to social distancing and the changes in everyday American life.
“Our group really misses our time in Ireland where things were easy and fun,” Bowlin said. “Now, we have to get back to our lives, but even our old lives aren’t the same.”
Summersgill recalls how her trip to Ireland was the actual escape from the situation.
“I felt really sad coming back because I knew that I was going to have to deal with COVID-19, whereas on study abroad it didn’t feel like it was real,” Summersgill said. “I felt like I was at summer camp, only to come back home to the real world.”
As many of us are now experiencing similar life alterations to what these students have already been experiencing in self-quarantine, life may seem a bit bleak. The only thing we can do is persist.