Camryn Lang is an English junior and former assistant news editor for The Battalion.
I spent one month studying in Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy, before COVID-19 rose to a Level 3 and the world went into a panic.
On Feb. 28, I stood among my crying peers and felt the blood drain from my face as our professor told us that Texas A&M had ordered us to return home. Having just visited the Tower of Pisa and walked among locals and tourists alike, it was hard to imagine the severity of fear that had overtaken the entire world. Isolated from most visual news, I relied heavily on articles from the New York Times and Washington Post which gave me a realistic view of the virus’ progression. Without the flash of eye-catching graphics and dramatic performances of newscasters, it was easy to believe that the virus was manageable.
I’d spent the week prior to the notice convincing myself that television news was sensationalizing the virus and everyone was overreacting. While stocks were diving lower and hand sanitizer was disappearing from the shelves, myself and 33 other students were relentlessly calling our airline to book flights and sharing our disappointment with family. At the time, I was miserable thinking about leaving Italy with its incredible culture and beautiful views. I so desperately wanted to have every experience I could, knowing that I may never get to come back to Italy or to Europe as a whole. I had been fortunate enough to visit Florence, Arezzo, Rome and Orvieto, but how could I leave when I was supposed to see so much more?
My classmates and I filled our last few days with as many experiences as possible, and the directors of our program were kind enough to set up a visit to Cortona. Our tour guide, Giovanni, who was quite the favorite among our group, took us around his hometown. My last day in Italy was spent walking through cobblestone streets, seeing the rolling hills of Tuscany and buying wine. It was a beautiful day of appreciation and solace. As we walked around the town, I saw the concerned faces of business owners and citizens who will feel the economic impact of the dwindling tourist season. Although I was sad to leave a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I was devastated to leave the community behind.
The next day, I stepped onto a bus at 3 a.m. and watched Italy whisk by in the darkness. One short flight to Frankfurt, Germany, followed by a 10 hour flight to Houston went by in a blur. During our rush to make it to each flight, we weren’t screened for symptoms like I thought we’d be. We were only taken through security and customs. I breezed by in Houston, trying desperately to make my San Antonio flight. One of my classmates didn’t make it to the plane on time, and some other students were left behind in Frankfurt.
I was fortunate enough to have a place to stay, but some of my classmates couldn’t go home to their families because of the risk of spreading the virus. All of us went into isolation for two weeks in self-quarantine, watching the world realize how devastating COVID-19 could be. In my quarantine, I have been bombarded by stories of grocery stores packed with panicked shoppers and news of faulty test kits being shipped out across the U.S. Now it feels as though the country is shutting down. I didn’t think that in leaving Italy I’d return to a country in the midst of doomsday prepping.
I understand why these decisions are being made. If drastic action isn’t taken by our governments and institutions, millions could be infected and compromised populations stand to lose thousands of people. I’m not worried about myself, but understand that I’m one of the lucky ones. As a 21-year-old with no underlying conditions, I have the best chance at surviving COVID-19. I can only hope in the next few months, the precautions being taken will save those who aren’t so fortunate.
I don’t currently have any symptoms and with only four days left in my quarantine, I’m hoping that continues. I wouldn’t want the next headline to be about how I spread the virus across Texas.