By Emmy Liederman
When Ryan Vazquez and his friends signed up for a semester abroad in Milan, they envisioned scenic walks to class, carefree nights at bars and cheap weekend flights to countries across Europe. But as the junior finance major packed his bags and prepared for an emergency trip back home, he watched a city that was once a bustling pinnacle of Italian culture take a turn for the worse.
“The airports were completely empty and everyone was required to wear a mask when boarding the plane,” he said. “Everything progressed earlier in Milan. The city went into a crisis.”
Interim Provost William Keep announced in a campus-wide email on Feb. 28 that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Global Engagement was providing assistance to study abroad students who wished to return early. But as businesses closed, courses moved online and the virus began to devastate Europe, seeing the semester out was no longer an option.
Keira Murphy, a junior biology major who was studying abroad in Valencia, Spain, noticed a huge change in mood after Las Fallas, the city’s most popular event of the year, was cancelled on March 10. Although she witnessed the city’s sudden shift of mood, she noticed that people in Valencia seemed a lot less panicked. This “laid-back nature” is one of the many aspects that she misses about Valencia.
“If I had to pick one thing I miss most, it would be the friendships I made while I was there — both with Spanish students and other abroad students from around America and throughout Europe,” she said. “I know for sure I’ll be returning. It’s just a matter of when that will be.”
According to Murphy, her study-abroad program gave students a week to make travel plans home. But when flights out of Spain were to be suspended on March 20 at 8 a.m, the morning of her 12 p.m. flight, she was forced to book a second flight and leave as soon as possible.
Between her two emergency flights and the original flight she had booked for May, Murphy was looking at 3,000 euros in travel expenses—which amounted to over $3,200.
“When I arrived at JFK, (staff) had us fill out a form stating where we had been, took our temperatures and gave us directions on quarantining,” she said.
While some students prepared themselves for an early end to their abroad experience, Diana Solano, who studied in Alcala de Henares, Spain, was determined to hold on to hope that her program wouldn’t get canceled.
“I would say the mood shifted significantly when Spain’s schools and universities shut down on March 11th,” said the junior journalism and professional writing major. “We had to leave Spain immediately. I saw the dynamic of the city change on the Saturday before I left. All businesses were shut down, no one was walking around, and the city had gone completely silent.”
Ryan Abramowitz, a junior art history major who studied at The University of Cambridge, was given two days notice to pack his bags and book a flight home.
“To be quite honest, Cambridge seemed to be functioning normally despite how nervous I was becoming in the days leading up to my program being cancelled,” he said. “Thankfully it was not difficult getting back into the US, although I was greeted by a series of questions pertaining to my recent travel rather than a friendly welcome home.”
Although being sent home early is undoubtedly disappointing for many, students like Solano are determined to focus on the blissful moments instead of dreading about the semester’s unexpected end.
“If I had known that the coronavirus would cut my experience short, I’d still study abroad,” she said. “I made new friends, traveled to a new country every weekend, and overall had experiences that I never would have had in New Jersey. Those are memories that I’ll hold on to forever and that’s something that the virus can’t take away from me.”