2 Months that Were, and 2 Months that Weren’t

Jesse Cape: AU COSAM- Spring Program in Alcalá de Henares, Spain Spring 2019

My name is Jesse Cape and I studied abroad in Alcalá de Henares, Spain in Spring of 2020 during the Coronavirus fiasco. If you would have told me during the last week of February that I would be returning home to the United States in less than a week, I would not have believed you. The last week I spent in Europe was extremely strange, and I will never forget it.

We first heard of Covid-19 in January when the cases were rising in China, but we never expected much from it. As an aspiring medical professional, I continued to track the progress of the disease, but until it became a pandemic, we had no idea it would affect this many people.

On the last weekend in February, I had plans to visit my friend who was studying abroad in Rome at the time. Rome was one of the first places in Europe to have an outbreak of Coronavirus, and it was only getting worse. Oma, my host grandma, called me into her room the Monday before to tell me that if I went to Rome this weekend that I was not allowed to return to her house. This was the first time I realized this pandemic would affect my travels and I was upset. I cancelled my weekend Rome trip and booked a trip to Bordeaux, France. The following day, our program advisor announced that we were not to travel to Italy until further notice, which saddened us because we planned a 10-day spring break to Italy in a few weeks.

While in France that weekend, I knew it was my last weekend in Europe for a while. We couldn’t stop looking at our phones because every few minutes we received new information. It was so hard to live in that moment in fear that it was going to be one of our last. This was one of my favorite weekends, despite the feeling of impending doom. Walking the streets felt so surreal because I didn’t know when it was going to be taken away from us; all I knew was it would be very soon. I remember walking through the City of Wine and overlooking the river and just sobbing because I never wanted to leave the beautiful architecture that dates back to before our country was even founded. I found comfort in trying new things while abroad, and I never wanted it to end.

That Saturday, the Auburn program in Italy was sent home due to Covid-19. We were told our group in Madrid was safe for now, but we were restricted from traveling to Italy anytime. We immediately cancelled all of our flights we had planned to Italy and started brainstorming new ideas for travel during our spring break.

When we arrived home on Sunday, we received word that we would most likely be restricted to traveling outside of Spain in fear of not being able to return. We were very flexible and began thinking of travel ideas within Spain.

On Monday, we spent the entire day attending classes, doing school work and catching up on sleep. That evening, I had just gotten out of the shower and my roommate was setting up the laptop to watch a movie. Across our phone screens we saw the title “AU Suspending All Spring Semester Programs. Faculty and students instructed to return to their homes in USA” and our hearts sank. An immediate wave of sadness fell upon us both. We tried to tell Oma what was happening, but we both couldn’t stop crying to tell her. She thought something awful had happened. She kept telling us “no pasa nada” which means “it does matter, it’ll be okay.” She said this to us all the time, but in this instance, I really tried to hear her out. She said she was sad for us, but that we were so lucky for the 2 months that we had, and she was right.

We spent that night wandering the streets and taking in every moment. We went to our favorite spots and met up with our fellow Auburn students. I remember drinking a Corona Beer in the square and thinking how ridiculous this entire thing was because the pandemic was unheard of at this point.

On Tuesday, we spent our final day in Madrid at our favorite restaurants and museums. We viewed paintings at El Prado Museum that we had studied in painting class that semester. The entire day was very emotional and it felt like a fever dream. Over dinner at our favorite spot we stumbled upon weeks before, my roommate and I discussed how lucky we are to have experienced the past 2 months. We got up Wednesday morning to head to the Madrid airport for our long flight back to Atlanta. This international flight was not as exciting as the flight to Spain. No one wore a mask and it seemed that no one knew what to do. During the “health screening,” I remember being asked a bunch of questions about why I was in Spain and where I had been inside of the airport, but there was no temperature check or hand sanitizing stations like the airports now. I remember taking off and seeing Spain disappear into the clouds and sobbing because I wasn’t supposed to be leaving. I wasn’t supposed to be in the States for another 2.5 months. I was supposed to go to Amsterdam and Ibiza with my roommate. I was supposed to tour Italy for 10 days with my sweet new friends. I was supposed to meet up with my friend in Rome and in Paris. My mom and best friend were coming over to go to Switzerland and Barcelona. I can’t explain how much it hurts to know that these experiences didn’t get to occur, but Europe always has and always will be there. It is just a matter of how to return… and soon!!

Auburn Abroad

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