#BergAtHome: My study abroad adventure during a global pandemic

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My friends and I had traveled to Liverpool for the weekend. It was spring break, and we were frequently checking the news. “I give it two weeks,” was the general consensus among the three of us. For sure, we thought we had at least two more weeks abroad in London. We tried to make the most of our trip to Liverpool, enjoying the music and nightlife scene, knowing that we could be sent home to the United States at any time in the near future. When we left London for Liverpool, people had just begun wearing masks on the Tube. When we arrived back in London that Sunday morning, there were now huge signs up in the Tube about coronavirus that told people to wash their hands. This was getting serious as the news reported numbers of those infected going up. Still, that last week in London, we took the Tube and saw shows. Our teachers, who were British, were acting as if everything was normal. Our program told us “not to be concerned.” 

That week we came back to London from our spring break, Trump made the announcement that he was closing flights to the United States, but not including the United Kingdom. However, on Thursday (Mar. 12), an email from Donna Kish-Goodling was sent out that said that it was now time to leave all programs in Europe and to make all necessary arrangements to come home. Shortly after, an email came from my program saying that all classes starting Monday were going online but that we were allowed to stay in the building. It was our choice. At the time, I did not see why it was necessary to leave London so quickly. It wasn’t until I went to the grocery store to pick up dinner and noticed that the shelves were empty and that there was no more frozen tortellini. This Sainsbury’s tortellini was one of the few things that I knew how to make in London. When I saw those empty shelves, I realized that it was time to go. 

A view of London from above. Photo courtesy of Sarah Gordin ’21.

We made the most of those three last days in London. My friends and I stayed up those nights till one or two in the morning, savoring each other’s company. We went out for one last afternoon tea at the fancy Delaunay restaurant and stopped one last time at my favorite bookstores. I went to the Royal Kew Gardens, taking big gulps of the fresh air and enjoying the beauty and sunlight, knowing that once I was home in New Jersey, I would have to self-quarantine for fourteen days. We had a big dance party that Friday night in one of our flats and jumped around, holding bottles of cider, singing Hannah Montana, and screaming at the top of our lungs, “We’re the kids in America” when the song came on, the irony not lost on us. This was the end of our time together in London. 

My friend Jackie and I flew back to Newark Airport together on Sunday (Mar. 15). We both had masks and covered our faces right when we entered the airport. Due to the Trump flight closures, lots of people from all over Europe were flying to London to then fly to the United States. We were worried about crowds and getting through security as well as temperature checks. However, while we were on a very crowded airplane, it was not hard to get through the security and we only had to fill out several forms about where we had traveled in the last fourteen days before landing in Newark. The flight was filled with students who, like us, were being sent home. Sitting next to me on the plane was a student who was also abroad in London. We talked about our experiences abroad and replaced our sim cards together, laughing at the absurdity of the situation, saying, “Who would have thought we would be abroad in London during Brexit AND coronavirus.” The flight moved quickly as I drifted between sleep and movies and making my London video (thanks to One Second Every Day), my brain not fully comprehending that this experience was really over. 

We landed and the lines were long. Jackie and I got separated, as they asked where we had last traveled and when. She said, “Barcelona for spring break,” and she got put on the other line. Immediately, I felt very scared to be separated from my travel buddy as I watched her line get led away. She had to go get the health check and I went into the passport review line. The man was nice. “Study abroad cut short? Sorry to hear that,” he said as he stamped my passport, readmitting me to the States. Jackie and I met up again at baggage claim. She had made it through. They took her temperature and when that was all normal, she was free to go to the Passport Review. Next up was Customs, which didn’t take long. Then, there were these two normal doors that led to the front entrance of the airport. When we walked through these doors, it finally felt like we made it. We had taken a long journey with not much notice of leaving and somehow had landed in New Jersey. When I met my parents, my mom was wearing gloves and a mask. “No hugging,” I said. My mom sprayed my luggage with Lysol. My dad stayed in the car as I sat in the very back of the minivan and took a nap, too tired to talk. 

When I met my parents, my mom was wearing gloves and a mask. “No hugging,” I said.

Right when I got home, I took a shower and headed to bed. My mom had set up my room for quarantine with a folding table and flowers so that I could eat all meals in my room. The next 14 days consisted of me not leaving my room except to use the bathroom. All meals were placed on a tray outside my door, which I opened when my parents walked away. It was as if the food was magically appearing. I talked to friends on Zoom and watched TV. Classes were continuing online, keeping me somewhat busy. I downloaded TikTok and watched theatre online. I read books. I did not go outside until day 14, and when I took my short walk, my body felt heavy and weighed down by the lack of movement. It felt as if I had just taken my first steps. 

Since being out of self-isolation, my family continues to quarantine. We are in a hotspot in New Jersey, and we are not taking this virus lightly. My brother has come home from New York City, so the whole family is in the house all the time. The only way I am keeping sane is by keeping a schedule and by assigning myself projects. I challenge myself to read a book a week. I also do ballet everyday with Tiler Peck on her Instagram live. I continue to check in and hang out with friends online. I do isolation journals almost everyday and color in my adult coloring book, which I then turn into get well cards to send to Lehigh Valley hospitals. I take a walk everyday so that I can breathe in some fresh air and so that I remember that the earth is still turning. March and April were different then I originally planned, but I am thankful to be home with my family, and, at this point in time, I am just grateful that those I know are healthy.

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