Woman in Italy

Studying Abroad When a Pandemic Hits

So, what do you do when you're studying abroad in Italy, the newly declared hub of a highly contagious virus, just as a pandemic hits? Well, you do a lot of things, like calling your mom and trying to tell her you are not panicking nor feeling at all unsafe while quietly brushing away tears on your cheek. You also have nervous fits of laughter with your roommate in disbelief of the entire situation at hand. Before I go further into detail, let's step it back a bit. 

Let's set the scene: it's my junior year of college and I have been looking forward to my study abroad experience for what quite literally feels like my entire life. While prospective applicants during campus tours asked questions about what majors and minors were offered and if greek life was present, I was pressed to know how many countries schools had in their international programs office to study abroad in. 

Fountain in Rome, Italy Original photo by Sofia Tempestoso

I was living probably one of the highest peaks of my life in Siena, Italy for the weeks I was there. It was absolutely amazing—the food, the people, the views, everything. I couldn't imagine spending it any other way. But, as we all know too well, 2020 was just too good to be true.

I was fortunate enough to be residing in Tuscany which was further South from where the outbreak initially hit in the Lombardy region. This was a stress reliever, but more so an indicator that my time in Italy was ticking. Once word hit that some colleges were shipping students back home due to the virus, I knew I'd be back on American soil soon enough. 

Girls in Italy Original photo by Sofia Tempestoso

It was truly, unbelievably upsetting and difficult to come to terms with the fact that my study abroad experience, which I had been eagerly anticipating for years, was coming to an abrupt end. Surprisingly enough, once the days were ticking down, I was so nervous about being trapped in a foreign country where I did not legally have citizenship that I was ready to return. With flights being canceled left and right, universities suspending Italian programs nationwide, and the wave of the (at the time) epidemic rapidly spreading—I just wanted to be in the comfort of my home. 

My stress continued thereafter once I returned back to the United States when the paranoia hit. Although it took a bit of time for the country to react, with quarantine and isolation rules only just beginning to be in discussion phases let alone mandated rules, the fear of COVID-19 was very real. I was terrified of bringing back the virus to my parents and had an intense dread that I was an asymptomatic carrier. 

Woman in Italy by beach Original photo by Sofia Tempestoso

In a happy turn of events, my family and I remained healthy and safe post my return and still are as we continue to follow public health guidelines and protocols. And although my abroad experience was definitely one to remember for various reasons, I won't let these crazy events overshadow the breathtaking places I traveled to, the incredible people I met, and all of the perfect moments that I did have during my two months in Italy. 

Lastly, I want to point out that although it was saddening that my study abroad experience was suspended early, I do want to express how beyond grateful I am that my family is healthy and safe when so many others are not as fortunate. I continue to send my love to all those who have been affected by COVID-19 and my extreme gratitude for frontline workers and essential personnel.