From Studying Abroad to Flattening the Curve

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Drew Davis (BA ’21) while studying abroad in Alicante, Spain

 

Hi guys! My name is Drew Elizabeth Davis and I’m a junior at Kansas State University. I spent the past few months studying in Alicante, Spain, but unfortunately my time abroad had to be cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The past few weeks have been extremely difficult, but I’m very thankful to be home with my loved ones during this time.

The situation in Spain and across Europe had been growing increasingly more severe in the weeks leading up to our program’s cancellation. Finally, on Wednesday, March 11th, we  received an email announcing the cancellation of all of the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC) programs in Spain. At this point in time, we were given a week to find a way back home to the United States. Later that evening, Spain’s CDC Advisory jumped to a Level 3, and President Trump announced that the U.S. borders would be closed to those traveling from Spain.

Regrettably, President Trump’s original announcement was unclear as to whether U.S. citizens were included in the travel ban or not. Due to the panic that followed, many students booked the soonest possible flight home, regardless of the price tag or timing. Some of my friends packed up their belongings and left for the airport without even sleeping that night. Our goodbyes were rushed, strained, and clouded with fear and anxiety. In fact, many goodbyes were not even said at all, given the time crunch. With the later clarification that U.S. citizens were exempt from the travel bans, the initial hysteria died down and the remaining students began booking their flights home. Although we were very upset that we had to say farewell to our friends, school, and city, there was a sense of security in knowing that we had time to organize our travel plans.

This security changed practically overnight, as Spain’s outbreak grew increasingly worse.

Even though bars, restaurants, and shopping centers were operating as usual on Wednesday, by Saturday March 14th, the streets were empty. The warm, vibrant, and welcoming city of Alicante had suddenly become a desolate ghost town. Police were stopping pedestrians from walking on the street unless the travel was absolutely necessary. This was especially disconcerting to see in Spain, as it’s a very social country where people normally spend the majority of their time on the streets, in restaurants, or at public places such as the beach. Without the bustle of the city, the air was eerily silent. My roommate and I used to complain about how loud the streets were, even in the middle of the night, but on our last evening there we would have given anything to hear those lively city sounds once again.

On a more uplifting note, one of my final memories of Alicante was very touching. At 10 p.m. on Saturday evening, everybody in the city went to their balconies to applaud the health care workers who are tirelessly taking care of others during this trying time.

To give some perspective as to how quickly the coronavirus spread: We were told on Monday March 9th to avoid panicking about being sent home, because our program advisors had faith that Spain’s strong healthcare system would keep the disease under control. However, by Saturday March 14th, coronavirus cases had gone up by thousands, we received an email advising us to fly home as soon as physically possible, and Spain had declared a state of emergency. This was only Spain’s second state of emergency since becoming a democracy in the 1970s, and they have since advanced to a state of alarm.

On Sunday morning, I began my journey home with my roommate and fellow K-Stater, Lasondra Aurand. We arrived at the airport in Alicante around 6 a.m — 4 hours before our flight — because we had seen on the news that the lines were overwhelming. Our connecting flight was in Madrid, which has the largest number of cases in Spain. Because of this, there were rumors that they might shut down the Madrid airport, and as such, we were extremely worried that our flight to Chicago would be canceled.

With no more than 45 minutes during our layover in Madrid, we had to sprint through the airport to catch the flight back to the U.S. Miraculously, we boarded the plane with only 5 minutes left to spare. That flight was full of study abroad students from all over, and there was a powerful sense of unity in knowing that other people were going through the same roller-coaster of emotions and physical adjustments.

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Returning to the U.S. through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (March 15, 2020)

After landing in Chicago and making it through customs, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) held screenings for the novel coronavirus. This entailed answering a few questions about where we had traveled to, what symptoms we were displaying, and having our body temperature read. The CDC gave everyone a sheet of paper explaining what symptoms to keep an eye out for, how to proceed with our quarantine (or going to the doctor if thought to be infected), and general information about the virus. My roommate and I were also instructed to take our temperature twice a day for two weeks in order to track any fevers that may occur. As of right now, we’re both very healthy!

In the Chicago airport, we had time to eat at a Chili’s and relax before our next flight to Wichita. Just being on U.S. soil again brought us a great deal of comfort and relief. Our flight was on time, and we landed at about 10:45 p.m. local time. My parents brought my car, but because we didn’t want to risk spreading the virus to them, they left the keys on the top of the car and talked to us from a distance. At this point in time, we had been awake for over 25 hours. Given the circumstances, we had little choice but to spend the night in a hotel before waking up Monday morning and going to a lake house for quarantine. My parents also checked into the hotel so that we didn’t have to be within 6 feet of any other people. Although neither of us have any symptoms, it is still very important for us to practice social distancing whenever possible.

On Monday morning, we drove to the lake house to start the 14-day quarantine together. We are both fortunate enough to have parents that went above and beyond to ensure we had a safe and comfortable place to spend our time as we continue to rest and reflect on everything that has happened.

My experience during the coronavirus pandemic has been especially unique. As I evacuated a country where strict lock-downs were rapidly being implemented, I flew home to a country where similar measures were only a few days or weeks away. I’ve seen, across both cultures, how easy it is for people to assume that “it won’t happen here.” However, I’ve learned the hard way that this virus isn’t a hoax and that we must take this seriously for the good of society. In Spain, the general public didn’t worry about the spread of coronavirus until it was too late to keep it contained to a small number of people. A similar mindset seems to be prevalent across the United States, despite how fortunate we are in that we learn from other countries and prepare in ways that they didn’t know they could.

Here’s my last two cents: These are difficult times for all of us. Everybody’s lives have been and will continue to be touched by what’s happening right now. Listen to the experts and stay inside. Be kind to one another. Find humor in the little things. Stay tough and resilient. If we can take this issue seriously and come together now, we can flatten the curve and come out of this stronger than before.

EMAW

— Drew E. Davis (BA ’21, Pre-Law)

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