Coronavirus has left the world in a state that has never been seen before - emptied grocery store shelves, quiet highways and closed restaurants on every corner. For the Gonzaga students who had intended on spending their semester abroad, their programs were cut short, beginning with Gonzaga-in-Florence (GIF), and other countries following soon after.
Junior Miranda Para was attending school in Florence until the sudden decision was made to close the pensiones and university. The announcement was made while Para was traveling through Amsterdam and Paris for spring break.
“Before we left everything was fine,” Para said. “Literally in five days everything was transformed, nobody was walking around, the Duomo was completely empty.”
Para purchased a plane ticket back to Seattle leaving from Florence while in Paris, which gave her two days to pack her life in Florence up to return home to Kennewick, WA at the beginning of March. The Frankfurt airport had her fill out a self-proclaimed symptoms form, asking if she had been experiencing any common coronavirus symptoms, which she had not.
Coming back to the US and continuing online classes has been nothing less than a struggle for the students that participated in GIF. Para noted that many of her Italian professors are not tech-savvy, and navigating Blackboard has been a hard hurdle to jump over for the students and the professors.
“Italian professors are not normal American professors,” Para said. “They don’t use technology as much as us, so trying to do assignments on Blackboard has been nearly impossible.”
Para said that most classes only have one to two assignments a week, and the learning aspect of online learning has been completely erased, with students being left to read bullet points on a slide show made by professors in Italy with little information on the slides, due to the fact that professors would normally expand on the points during in person class sessions.
“It’s been a lot of Googling,” Para said.
The nine hour time difference between Washington and Florence has been a struggle to get a hold of professors to ask questions as well.
While in Florence, Para was enrolled in a Fashion Marketing and Retailing class, where students learned about the different textures and textiles in clothes and how to plan for new seasons, colors and collections. While in Florence, the class got to go to different boutiques around Florence for exclusive tours and they attended a fashion expo.
One of the large assignments for the class was to go to the stores H&M and Zara in Florence and study the clothes in comparison to what they had been learning in class. In Kennewick, this assignment is impossible to do even before the outbreak and closure of stores, due to the lack of both of those stores.
“The professor told me she would have a different assignment for me to do about two weeks ago, but I haven’t heard back from her and it’s due in two weeks,” Para said.
After returning back to Kennewick, Para noted that this whole process has been a lot to handle, and being home has made everything difficult, since all of her friends aren’t in town and still in school.
“It’s been a lot harder than I had imagined,” Para said. “When I first left I thought that staying in a foreign country for four months is really scary, and next thing I knew Florence was our home, we didn’t need or want anything that we couldn’t get, so it's been really hard. It’s definitely been a transition.”
Junior Christopher Farrow, returned from his study abroad program in Costa Rica due to concerns about COVID-19. Unlike Para and other GU study abroad students, he made the decision to come back to the states on his own, rather than GU telling him to head home.
“I made the choice to come back home before my program actually got cancelled because we were given the option of returning home early and finishing our classes online."
“I’m not speaking Spanish everyday, which will make my classes a little more difficult,” Farrow said in an email.
Farrow, a psychology and Spanish double major, was participating in a program called SOL in Heredia, Costa Rica, which is a full Spanish immersion program. This is his second study abroad program, with the first being in Madrid during the 2019 Spring Semester. His time in Heredia was spent dousing himself in sunscreen walking to and from the university, having sit down meals with his host family at set times every day, something quite different from the average American routine.
Due to safety concerns in Heredia, students were expected to be home before sundown every night, but as Farrow noticed that his time there may be cut short, he made sure to watch the sunset on the beach before returning back to the states.
Farrow returned to his hometown of Portland, Oregon on March 16. He recalled how out-of-the-ordinary the airports were on his way back home, with signs and warnings about coronavirus plastered all around the Houston airport.
“I got asked by multiple employees where I had travelled in the past two weeks,” Farrow said. “People seemed a lot more anxious and frightened and a lot of people were keeping their space from others.”
Regular emails have been sent to the GU community with updates on the virus, and what everyone should be doing to prevent the virus from being spread.
The rest of the student body begins online courses on March 23, through online applications such as Zoom and Blackboard.