home CITY BEAT Saying “Arrivederci”: How the Coronavirus Impacted My Study Abroad Experience

Saying “Arrivederci”: How the Coronavirus Impacted My Study Abroad Experience

By Kayla Mutchler

I dreamt of going to Italy all of my life—and college made my dream come true. During my upbringing, my maternal grandparents would tell me stories of their youth there, and I knew from a young age that one day I would go. So, in the spring of 2019, I applied for the University of New Haven’s study abroad program in Prato. In the fall, I was accepted. I prepared for the voyage and a new chapter of my life.

I told my grandparents that I was accepted, and they were beyond happy–not just for me to be able to study abroad, but to visit my family. This was the perfect opportunity.

On Jan. 20, I said a teary-eyed. goodbye to my family at John F. Kennedy Airport. I didn’t feel as if I were leaving my family behind, and I wasn’t sad, but the goodbye was still hard. Luckily, I wouldn’t be alone—my two roommates were coming with me and I knew that I would soon see my family. So, I boarded the plane for an eight-hour flight.

I remember seeing The Alps right before the plane landed in Milan. It was breathtaking. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. We have mountains in America, but from where I’m from, they are incomparable to the height of the ranges in Italy.

On the drive to Prato, I took in the beautiful landscape. Halfway through the ride, we stopped for food—the gas station pizza was better than a lot of pizzerias in America.

We later arrived in Prato, and within a few days my friends and I became accustomed to life in Italy. We became great friends with the girls we lived with and made some other friends, too. We did a lot in a little over a month—we traveled, went on a wine tour, made friends with some locals, ate the cuisine, and much more.

Just as I wanted, I got to visit some of my cousins, though not as much of the family that I would have liked to see. We booked trips for the upcoming months to travel outside of Italy, too.

We learned to eat a sweet breakfast, drink a cafè (or three), say “buongiorno” when we would walk into a store or restaurant, and enjoy life at a slower pace—and I wish went even slower.

I remember waking up one day to a Twitter notification about a new virus in China that they referred to as the coronavirus. I disregarded it and went about my day—I shouldn’t have disregarded it. As the days came and went, more news reports were released, and it became serious.

On Feb. 25, the students and faculty at my school were informed of a mandatory meeting about the coronavirus. We walked in, smiles on our faces, hoping for the best. Our demeanors changed once we realized how serious the situation was. Our dean informed us that due to the changing conditions of the virus in Italy, we would have the option to return to the United States, or stay in Prato and see if the conditions change. My friends and I looked at each other, not knowing what to do.

It was chaotic. Rumors and false information were being spread through students, parents were complaining on social media, students were arguing, and there was confusion everywhere.

We discussed with parents, the school canceled classes, and students decided whether or not they would return to America. A few days later, a combined total of 55 American students and faculty flew back to the U.S., while 25 remained in Prato. Almost all of my friends decided to stay in Prato, and we were ready to continue our study abroad experience.

We were told to consolidate into one dorm building, and we did—and then things changed once more. On Mar. 1, the remaining 25 students and faculty were told that the situation had worsened in Italy, all American schools would be sending their students home, so we would have to go home, too. We were devastated. As we listened to our dean say that it breaks his heart to send us home, it was hard to fight back the tears.

I said goodbye to Prato at 2:30 a.m. on Mar. 3. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, and neither were a lot of the other students. The trip to America took over 20 hours. We’re still figuring out logistics with classes, but for now, it is online.

The coronavirus is becoming more serious by the day. Just as schools and public spaces closed in Italy, they are beginning to in the U.S. The University of New Haven’s main campus ordered students to return to their homes earlier than spring break, and many other schools are doing the same. Some are even going as far as to keep classes online until the end of the semester. All we can do, right now, is hope for the best and educate ourselves.

I need to go back to Italy, and I will—whether it’s two months (if the situation is better) or ten years from now. I have the best kind of unfinished business. I will see my family, visit the town where my grandparents grew up, explore, and go back to Prato to reminisce on the short-lived, best adventure of my life.