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Studying Abroad During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Studying abroad was something I had looked forward to doing ever since I knew it was an option. So, when I was given the opportunity to spend this winter quarter in Florence, I was elated. I don’t think I, or anyone else in my program, could’ve guessed that our host country, Italy, would very quickly become the European epicenter of the novel coronavirus.

view of city florence italy
Photo by Jonathan Körner on Unsplash

My program in Florence, which started January 7th, consisted of 80+ students from different UC campuses. Though I don’t know exactly how many UC students were in Italy total, it’s my underestanding that UCEAP had programs running in Rome, Bologna, and Milan for winter quarter/spring semester, as well.

On February 22nd, our host program Accent forwarded us an email from the US Embassy of Rome, letting us know that there were 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Milan and Venice regions. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I had just completely ignored this email when I first saw it. So the next day, when I heard that classmates of mine were rushing to get out of Venice that weekend, I was suprised.

Over the next few days, the virus spread at an unthinkable rate; hundreds of new cases were popping up everyday. Soon, towns in the affected regions went into quarantine, and all our class field trips and walking tours got cancelled. It wasn’t long before students began to worry, not so much about contracting the virus but about the viability of making it back home.

Milano Duomo cathedral in Italy in daytime

At this point, we received word from UCEAP that though they would not be suspending the program, students would now be allowed to leave the program, receiving 4 out of 5 units for every class as long as final exams and papers were submitted online. While some chose to take this route, many decided to stay, hoping that the virus would be contained and that future trips would not have to be cancelled.

Late Thursday night on February 27th, not even a week since that intial email, both the CDC Travel Health Notice as well as the US government’s travel advisory had reached a level 3, which, according to UCEAP policy, meant the program would now have to be suspended. A few hours later, we got confirmation from both Accent and UCEAP that we all would now have to stop attending classes and prepare to leave the country.

By the time I left Florence the following Thursday, March 5th, the number of confirmed cases had surpassed 3,000. Today, there are over 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy, making it the second most infected country in the world. As a result, the entire country has been placed under quarantine until further notice.

While I am safe, healthy, and back at home, these past few weeks have not been the easiest to deal with, and it can feel overwhemling sometimes, having to constantly hear about COVID-19 in the news and on social media. While I feel lucky to have made it back to the US before the quarantine was enacted, I can’t help but still feel stressed over everything that’s happened and how quickly it happened.

At the end of the day, my hope is that people just become more aware of and responsive to what’s going on around them. It can be hard sometimes to take things seriously when it doesn’t have a direct effect on your life, and, on the other hand, it can be just as difficult not to panic at a time like this as well. So, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and support your local Asian businesses who may be unjustly suffering during this time.

Sally is a fourth year communication student at UCSB. Her favorite things to do include traveling, eating, and binge watching YouTube videos. In her ideal future, she is either a research professor or market analyst for a digital entertainment company and living in her hometown of LA with a hypoallergenic cat.
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