It saddens me to write this final post. If the circumstances were different, I would be telling you all about my time in London and Berlin over Dublin City University’s Reading Week, my grandparents’ trip to Dublin, and how the overall month of March went. Unfortunately, I did not make it to Berlin. The COVID-19 outbreak was getting worse in Germany, France, and Spain, so I made the decision to fly back to Dublin while my friends ventured on. This was the first sign that my life would change. Days later, I found out my study abroad was ending, and I had four days to get home. The day before, President Trump had announced a travel ban on most of Europe, and with that, Temple had suspended our program and wanted us home. The next four days were filled with tearful goodbyes, anxiety dreams, and stressful conversations.
On Monday, March 16at 2a.m., I left my on-campus accommodation and took a taxi to the Dublin airport. Nothing says fleeing a country like leaving in the middle of the night. I had said goodbye to all my wonderful friends, both American and European, my lovely boyfriend, and my housemates. I arrived at the airport to find my fellow travel companions ready for a long day ahead of travelling. We had heard through the news, friends, and social media that the airports were jampacked with travelers fleeing to the States before the borders closed, so it was best to get there early. We waited, patiently and anxiously, for check in to open. By 4 a.m., I was losing steam since I had stayed up to pack and have a goodbye dinner with friends. By 5 a.m., I felt like my eyes were going to fall out of my head and I had resorted to pacing up and down the line to keep myself awake. (Talk about a sight to see!) By 6:30 a.m. on Monday morning, check-in had opened, bags were checked, and boarding passes were printed, but we weren’t even half done with pandemic travelling festivities.
With my duffle bag slung over my shoulder and my passport in hand, I was ready for security and pre-clearance. Dublin is one of the three airports in Europe that does United States pre-clearance in their airport. Security was cake, but making the trek to pre-clearance was stressful. We had heard all sorts of rumors about what would happen. Some said we would have our temperature checked, and others said we were going to have a full screening. Let me preface by saying that I had allergies going into this, so I was trying my best not to cough or sneeze the entire time. What I came to learn through observation while standing in line and asking the different TSA workers is that pre-clearance is just security, but the States edition, so shoes come off and you can have as many bags of liquids. (BTW, normally your shoes stay on in Europe and you’re only allowed one bag.) Since I did not travel to mainland Europe*, I luckily did not have to get fully screened, but those who did ended up missing their flights because they had to have a full screening and testing.
I don’t think I’ve felt more relieved after I exited pre-clearance and made my way to my gate. It was 8:15 a.m. at this point. I had been up all night, stated six different times where I’d travelled to in the last 14 days, and sweated through my undershirt. I’ve been travelling for as long as I can remember and have experienced various delays, cancellations, and travel mishaps, but never anything like this. I arrived safely to my gate where I boarded the plane 10 minutes later. Our flight did get delayed by an hour because we had to wait for everyone in pre-clearance. My flight was the last flight out to Philly before the new ban that included Ireland and U.K. took place that night, so it there really couldn’t be any man left behind. I settled in and slept for a majority of the seven-hour flight. (Much deserved sleep, too.)
I had a connecting flight from Philly to Baltimore with a layover of an hour and half. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking and that that’s my flight was getting in later than scheduled which meant a mad dash, then you’re absolutely right. I booked it off the plane, through the terminal, and onto the shuttle that would take me across the tarmac to a terminal on the opposite side. My plane left in 20 minutes. I stepped off that shuttle and sprinted, duffle bag slung over my shoulder and boarding pass in hand. With about 10 minutes to spare, I made it to the gate, scanned my pass, and proceeded onto the plane. It was a small 30-seater and the flight attendant told us to sit wherever. Forty-five minutes later, 25 minutes waiting to be cleared to take off and 20 minutes total airtime, we landed in Charm City. My mom greeted me at security with open arms. She was more relieved to have me home than I was. We collected my luggage and headed home where I’ve been in self-monitoring for symptoms, per my doctor, and social distancing since.
These past two weeks of complete isolation from most of the outside world have allowed me to process the last month and half, and mourn what I had lost. Despite my program being cut short, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. I know lots of people who go abroad say that it will change your life and it does, but not for the reasons you think it will. Yes, you will take beautiful photos that you can post on Instagram. Yes, you will party more and drink more freely, because Europe just generally has a healthier and better drinking culture. Yes, your classes will be a lot easier, so you will have more free time than normal. But what will really change is how you see yourself, others, and your country. You will learn what the different struggles of other first-world countries are like. You will learn how other people view your country and nationality. You will end up viewing your country differently. If you’re lucky enough to really get involved, meet people, and make great friends, then your world will expand even further. You’ll learn new slang, facts, and cultural practices. You’ll learn about new sports. You’ll learn how to date, and you’ll learn what it means to be a good friend.
With all this being said, I urge every single one of you reading this to go abroad. It will most definitely change your life. If it doesn’t, then it will still be a learning experience. At the very least, it’ll make you realize that you are lucky to be alive and to experience life in all verities.
*Knock on wood we never have another pandemic again, but if we do, I do not recommend traveling to a country where the cases are in the 1000s. It is in your best interest to return home where you are much safer. Europe can wait, but your health can’t.