Elizabeth Vanek had high hopes for the spring semester as she traveled to Seville, Spain to take Spanish classes. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, her trip was cut short as she was forced to return to the United States.
Vanek, a sophomore psychology major from Brenham, decided to study abroad to fulfill the requirements for her Spanish minor. While studying at Tech’s campus in Seville, Vanek and her classmates had a feeling that the COVID-19 outbreak was getting serious as the students’ family week was canceled.
“On March 9th was when we really realized it was going to be downhill from there because when Tech does its study abroad, instead of having a spring break trip, we have a mandatory trip to Toledo and Madrid and they make that family week,” Vanek said. “That Monday, they sent everybody an email to let us know family week was canceled.”
Despite the cancelation of the trip, Vanek and her classmates were aware of the situation as Tech had a doctor speak with the students about COVID-19 so they were informed about the virus. The doctor let the students know the statistics regarding COVID-19 cases including the number of cases and mortality rate, as well as going over the symptoms and ways to prevent the virus.
As Vanek took in all of the information, she said it was not a shock to her as she was already slightly educated on the virus because the people of Spain typically had their TVs on. Through watching the news, she said she was constantly hearing about the outbreak, so the information was not new to her.
“It actually made me feel more calm just because there was somebody telling me all the information (that) I needed to be as prepared as possible,” Vanek said.
A couple of days after the students’ family week was canceled, the CDC declared a Level Three Health Notice in Spain. With Tech’s policy stating that students cannot be in a country when it reaches level three, Vanek and her classmates were sent an email telling them to head home.
Around the course of three to four days, Vanek and her classmates ordered flights, packed their bags and headed back to the United States. She said the students had to pay out of pocket for their flights, but Tech is working on reimbursing the students due to the unprecedented situation.
“I feel like sluggish is a good way to describe (the mood),” Vanek said regarding the vibe of the final days in Spain. “I think with the whole situation no matter where you are, everybody’s just kind of in shock. We all just felt a little weird because we were packing up to go home, but none of us really quite understood that we were actually going home.”
Another thing that felt weird to Vanek during her final days in Spain was the emptiness of the country.
“Not only was everybody really out of it, but there was literally nobody on the street. It was just a really, really weird situation,” Vanek said. “Having to go home was weird enough, but walking around the streets trying to visit places for the last time or get a souvenir with no people, that was the weirdest part of it”
Even while at the airport, Vanek said the situation did not seem real as she reached out to a staff member to see if she could continue her classes in Spain. She said the seriousness of the outbreak hit her when she was told there was no option to stay as there was a possibility of Spain closing its borders.
“That’s when all of us realized how real it was,” Vanek said. “It didn’t really hit me until I was basically flying home.”
With the spread of COVID-19, Vanek said the procedures at the airport were the same for the most part. Aside from the airports being crowded, she said everyone was wearing masks and gloves. The biggest difference from other flights she has previously taken was that she had to fill out a health form questionnaire when entering the United States. Once landing, Vanek said passengers were greeted by people from the CDC asking if they have experienced any of the virus’ symptoms in the past 14 days.
Although her trip was cut short, Vanek said experiencing the culture in Seville was her favorite part of her time studying abroad.
“They’re very laid back and welcoming people,” Vanek said. “It’s just something you have to experience to get, but the culture was amazing.”
Despite the unprecedented circumstances, Vanek understood the seriousness of the pandemic and the measures Tech had to take to keep its students safe.
“All of us were obviously really upset,” Vanek said. “I was upset about having to go home, but I wasn’t outwardly super upset because I knew this wasn’t something people were doing lightly and it wasn’t something anybody wanted us to go through. It was just a whole lot of having to remind myself that there was a reason this was happening and it was necessary.”