On February 29th, Italy changes to a level 3 travel advisory on both the CDC and the Department of State websites. The program is cancelled and we are given a week to leave Italy. There is confusion about class credits, travel insurance and whether leaving is required or strongly suggested. Our class group chat explodes over night— some are rejoicing and the opportunity to leave while others definitely claim they will stay until forced to leave. It is hard to know what to do and how to feel. I feel tightly wound with the stress of leaving and the worry that I am only transporting myself out of infected Italy and into the area where the next outbreak is likely to occur. I am sad about leaving but heartbroken by the frantic, panicked manner of everyone leaving. We’ve all made amazing friends and now we’re leaving without having closure, without saying goodbye. It’s hard to feel good about leaving under these circumstances. My parents had planned to come visit me next week and my sister is crushed about the cancellation.
I am in Paris this weekend and it is difficult to get information about the announcement. I try to call my mom but it’s 3am her time and it’s the night before my grandpa’s funeral. It is hard to handle an epidemic in the midst of usual tragedy. Many other students are also outside of Rome for various weekend trips. Some students panic and fly back to the United States immediately, leaving behind all their belongings in their Italian apartments. When we come back from Paris, half our roommates are gone– their sheets nicely folded with their towels laid bare at the foot of their beds. We run into other girls from the program in the lobby and they tell us there’s only about 15 students left, everyone else having left in a fearful hurry. On our last day we walk the city, eating take out noodles in a piazza and hiking to sunset in Trastevere. We meet other American girls from John Cabot University who are abandoning their belongings to backpack through Europe for as long as they can before future border closures. We meet sympathetic Italians who tell us there is no need to worry and we shouldn’t be forced to leave. It’s a tearful night and a nervous step into whatever is coming next.
On a more optimistic note- it seems the universe is pushing us out of Italy for a reason and the signs of a coming storm are evident. It reminds me of all the stories of war in which so many people would have been saved, had they only followed the signs and left sooner, before the drastic tipping point. Hindsight is 20/20 and I now understand their hesitations against leaving. It’s easy to say- “you should’ve paid attention. you should’ve left” but much harder to actually interpret these small signs and successfully predict the course that will follow. We don’t want to give in to fear and paranoia and also don’t want to be the stupid ones who didn’t listen. It is difficult to predict the future and more difficult still to base your present situation off these predictions. But for now, my time in Rome is finished and I am anxious to see how this disease carries out as it inevitably spreads to the United States.