Ramapo pulls students from study abroad trips as coronavirus precaution

Photo courtesy of Sam Mistretta

This semester was supposed to be the best semester of my life. I dreamed of studying abroad for years and this semester started off as everything I hoped it would be. Seeing the various monuments in Rome, traveling throughout Italy, eating amazing food and making wonderful friends.

However, it quickly came to an end. 

Within the first two weeks of the program, fears were rising about the coronavirus being in Italy. On Jan. 31, we received a message from the United States Embassy in Rome that there had been two confirmed cases of coronavirus in the city. They informed us that we should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into place shortly. We continued to receive messages from the U.S. Embassy about regions in Italy that had confirmed cases. 

On Feb. 26, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention labeled Italy as a Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution. At this point, panic began to sink in. I was the only Ramapo student in this program and we began to hear from our respective schools about what actions were about to take place, or which actions we had the option of taking. Out of nowhere, one of the universities highly represented in this program, Villanova University, required all of their students to return to the U.S. 

To explain the impact of this situation, one must know that there were about 44 students in the program total, 15 of them being Villanova University students. Everyone in the program was upset. We did not want our friends to leave and thought it was entirely unfair. Little did we know every student would have the same fate as the Villanova students a few days later. 

After Villanova University students were pulled from the program, everyone began to fear for if and when they would get pulled by their schools. Our program directors put an online conference together for the next day to discuss what was going to be done. They informed us that we were okay to travel within Italy, but to refrain from leaving the country. They also made us aware that if the CDC raised the travel advisory to a Level 3: Reconsider Travel, they would reevaluate the situation. 

At this point, I had yet to hear anything from the Ramapo faculty, so I reached out to them myself. I heard from Ben Levy in the Roukema Center the next day and I was provided an option to remain in Italy or return to the U.S., but I was scared about the possibility of being stuck in Italy and not being able to return if the travel advisory went up again. I did not want to risk not finishing the semester if my program were to get canceled but I did not want to end my experience abroad either. I planned to have a conversation with my family as soon as I had gotten off the phone with Ben to discuss probably going home. 

About ten minutes later, before I had gotten a chance to call my parents, the CDC raised the travel advisory to Level 3. I emailed Ben immediately knowing my decision was to return home and that I would inform my parents afterward. Ben replied and told me that I was making the right decision, but my decision was now becoming a requirement. 

Although I was already preparing myself to return home, I was devastated that it was no longer my choice. It made the situation scarier and more of a reality. I changed my flight home and began packing immediately. Around two in the morning my program sent the official message that they were suspending the program and requiring all students to return to the United States regardless of what our home schools had told us already. 

Everyone in my program was distraught. We were planning to get together to say goodbye to one another and planning visits to certain places we had not been yet in Rome. I spent my last day in Rome going inside the Colosseum at the top of the Vittorio Emmanuel II monument, tossing coins into the Trevi Fountain, walking to the top of the Spanish Steps and going inside the Pantheon. 

Upon arriving back in America, I was surprised that there were no screenings for coronavirus when I arrived at the airport. I only had to go through customs before I could leave. Watching the news, I have seen that screenings are occuring now. 

Returning home, I thought that I could go back to my everyday life but unfortunately, I cannot. Being that I was in Italy and potentially exposed to the coronavirus, I will be stuck inside my home. I have been ‘required’ by Ramapo to remain in self-isolation for the next 14 days and avoid going outside of my house as much as possible. I am also required to see an Infectious Disease Medical Provider and receive a note of clearance that I am healthy before I can return to campus. 

So, for the next two weeks, I continue to live my life at home and will complete my study abroad semester remotely through online courses. Thus, the coronavirus put an end to my long dream of studying abroad and undergoing European travels.