Emily Dolny - Student stories of COVID 19/Study Abroad

"The virus obviously took its toll on everybody. For me it was a lesson in appreciation." ~ Emily Dolny
Emily Dolny at her home desk setup

My first real observation of the virus that made me realize just how real the effect of Covid-19 was going to be was in the airport. It was pretty early in the virus timeline for Spain, around the last weekend of February. I was on my way to Geneva for my first solo trip. I was super excited to act independently and tackle some of my social anxiety head on (eating alone was a major challenge for me but I became a pro by the end of the trip!) Anyways, I got to the airport early just in case the security line was long. I was sitting at my gate facing two young boys around the age of six and their Dad. They caught my eye because they looked very similar to my little brothers when they were that age, and they accidentally threw an apple under my chair but mostly the resemblance to my own brothers. They were playing each other in an iPad game when their Dad asked them to stop for a second. They did and he started to explain to them that when they weren’t going back to London after the trip and instead were going to stay with one of their grandparents. The kids were excited at first and then he told them that they would not be going to school.

One of the boys started to ask questions about how they are supposed to see their friends and teacher, how long it would be until they would get to go home. The Dad was clearly at a loss and eventually just told them he didn’t know but he hoped soon. The other boy began crying and began speaking French, so I have no idea which part of this made him so upset but really any part could have.

Emily Dolny in her bedroom

Up until this point I had been taking the Coronavirus as something that couldn’t touch me. I thought I was being optimistic by thinking everything was going to be fine and that I could just keep doing what I was doing however I was really just being apathetic, I just didn’t really care that much and thought my friends and I were going to be unaffected.

This was a brutal wake up call. I started to follow the news more closely, and listened to reports about Italy and how Spain was following the same patterns. I would listen to all of these stories but as soon as I would walk down the street it seemed like everything was normal. People were still out, the weather was getting nice, the shopping areas were packed. My family was going to come for 15 days in the beginning of March. At this point Barcelona had many more cases than Madrid so they shortened the trip to 5 days. The last day they were there was Monday, March 9.

I like to call this day the beginning of the end. All schools we’re announced to be cancelled for two weeks starting on Wednesday, March 11. Tuesday,my friends, and I began to think of where we could go that would be safe to vacation to during the two weeks. Wednesday we all went out to dinner and began to discuss worse case scenarios. Late that night, at around 3AM, there was an announcement that President Trump was canceling all US travel to and from Europe. This sparked the longest night of my life as all of the study abroad students went into a whirlwind of panic. My parents were calling me about flights back, I was on the phone with one of my friends until 5AM trying to decide what to do. On Thursday, we booked flights to London as they were not included in the original ban. On Friday I packed up everything and left for London. On Saturday, Spain went into a national state of emergency, closing all restaurants and non essential stores. Once in London a new rule was set in place that anyone entering the United States had to go through one of the major hubs which luckily I was. I watched as one woman who was also going to Arizona was informed of this new rule at the check- in desk and began to sob.

I was home exactly a week after March 9, the beginning of the end. After my return to the US I did the mandatory 14 days quarantine in my room and realized just how thankful I was to be able to get home at all, and to be with my family during these insane times. I am also so lucky to have had the opportunity to study abroad. Even with everything that happened I would still recommend that if you have any interest in studying abroad you should do it.

It really is one of the best opportunities you have during college. I learned so much about the world and myself during this experience and wouldn’t change a thing.