Panic from abroad: Nothing is certain

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This opinion piece is part of a series of perspectives from current or past staff of The Brown and White about the impact of the coronavirus overseas.

Feb. 23 at 9. a.m. CET, I was sitting on a Vueling flight flying from Florence and set to land in Barcelona later that morning. It was my sixth weekend in Europe, which marked almost the halfway mark of my time abroad in Europe.

Shana Lichaw was studying in Barcelona, when she was told to pack her things and come back to the States immediately. Her experience, like that of many others overseas, was cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak.

I was studying abroad in Barcelona and traveled to various countries on the weekends. I left my Lehigh friends in Florence to start their spring break going to the south of France, and ultimately ending in Paris. I went back to Barcelona minding my own duties, and was planning on seeing them March 5, but this time in Barcelona.

I received a call from a friend on February 24 that they were leaving Nice and going back to Florence, packing up everything they owned because they did not know when they would be returning to Florence. I sent them my apologies and kept saying that everything would work out, because at a young age, I learned that in times of sadness you need to show compassion for people you care about — but then continue to go about my day. 

I went about my week hearing rumors in the halls of my school about European programs, when people were going home in Italy and heard students asking our professors if it would happen to us. Our professors would laugh at us as if we were insane, because the coronavirus had not “hit Spain” directly yet. 

During this time, I was in the denial stage. I would tell people to live everyday like it was our last and to not think about it. Fast forward to Feb. 27 at 5 p.m CET. I get on another Vueling plane heading off to Madrid for the weekend. 

Meanwhile, my Florence friends — who are my best friends — were all home. I decided to not post as much on social media to be considerate of them at home. Once I got back to Barcelona from Madrid, we all had a, “This could be our last” mindset. 

I could not explain why, but I had a feeling I was not going to make it in Europe until the end of April. I just wanted to stay abroad until my family came to visit at the end of March. When the week of March 1 rolled around the corner, AbroadFest was upon us. This was the weekend everyone comes to Barcelona for a festival, and I was supposed to have my six friends from Florence stay in my tiny apartment. 

As the attendance to the event began to decline, it started to hit me that I should live every moment like it was my last. It is not everyday I get the opportunity to travel Europe with my best friends from high school and college. AbroadFest went on, and instead of consisting of many visitors, thanks to coronavirus it was mostly Barcelona students — still fun. 

On Monday, March 9, we all woke up to news that the cases of coronavirus had doubled overnight, now in the thousands. We went about our days and found out someone at our school was being tested for COVID-19. We were told attendance was optional.

At that point, no one was going to class because we knew it was weeks, not months, we had left in Spain. In the back of my head I kept thinking, ‘My family is coming March 16, I’ll make it until then.’ 

Everyone around me agreed. If they were leaving, they were leaving March 18, 19 or 20. We all wanted to make our last days count, as there was no time limit. 

Wednesday, March 11 was one of the most beautiful days in Barcelona yet. It was 64 degrees with no sign of a cloud or wind solely just sunshine. Class was still optional, so I went to lunch with my friends, worked out at Orangetheory, showered and met my friends for dinner at Cecconi’s. We knew it would be our ‘last hurrah’ — people were starting to flee Barcelona in the weeks to come. 

But, what we didn’t know, was to what extent it would be our ‘last hurrah.’ We were all going to our favorite performer that night together to celebrate the semester thus far. While we were eating dinner, we were informed the president was speaking at 9 p.m. EST and 2 a.m. CET. Time pases, and at exactly 2:04 a.m. CET, my phone calls and it’s my sister. I quickly decline it, because I am with all of my friends. 

The clock still reads 2:04 a.m., and this time it’s my mom who rings. I pick it up. “Shana, go home now and pack up all of your room, you are leaving tomorrow at 6 p.m.,” she says. 

I am on the phone in hysterics. This new life in a foregin country that I just made for myself and took so long to adjust to, is suddenly collapsing. My Spanish just began to improve, I made way more friendships than I imagined and I finally was beginning to feel at home. In the meantime, my phone was blowing up with texts, making sure I got a flight home after the President’s speech which, luckily, I did. 

I am home now, safe and sound — feeling healthy. Ever since Feb. 23, I have been living everyday like it is my last. You never know when something will just be ripped away from you, and you can’t get it back. What I did learn from my short two months abroad, however, is how easy it may be to connect with new people, how important independence is and lastly, to not take anything for granted. Life is too short to get caught up in the little things we do not know what will happen in the future. 

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