In just the beginning of what would become a major pandemic outbreak, Italy had announced a level three emergency on February 29, Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases rose by the hundreds. On Feb. 28, the University Studies Abroad Consortium cancelled their programs in Italy and recommended participants return to the United States.
Howard Goldbaum, a journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, was teaching Travel Writing and Photography in Viterbo, Italy, when the emergency was announced. He and his wife quickly packed their bags and flew back to the U.S.
“First it was a drizzle, then it was a rain, then it was a flood,” Goldbaum said about the virus’ threat to Italy. “The drizzle came when the state department classified Northern Italy as warning level three.”
Goldbaum spoke on his students’ travels around Italy and Europe as well. He said some of them visited Venice and some went to Spain and France. He mentioned two students involved in the Viterbo program had tested positive for COVID-19 after remaining in quarantine for two weeks in Italy. Goldbaum was not exposed to the virus firsthand.
Participants in Italy’s four programs were given one week to leave their designated housing. Their program would be completed by Friday, March 6, after first hearing USAC’s announcement on Saturday, Feb. 29.
When Goldbaum returned to the U.S., he was required to self-quarantine for two weeks. Within that time, the university announced all classes would be moved online by Monday, March 23. Goldbaum said he would be teaching the USAC classes virtually until the end of the semester.
Goldbaum said he would enjoy going back to Italy, but since his decision to retire, he would not be teaching.
One of Goldbaum’s Travel Writing students, Hanna Walkinshaw, wrote on the topic of her own experience leaving Italy.
“My last day in Viterbo feels so blurry,” Walkinshaw wrote. “I met up with my friends to visit our favorite café and enjoy our last Italian cappuccino. None of us could believe it. I sat sipping my coffee, listening to the chatter of locals speaking Italian to each other. A sound that I felt I was finally getting accustomed to and one I now dearly miss.”
Edward “Ned” Schoolman, who is also a professor at UNR, experienced a whirlwind of events when U.S. citizens were called back home. Schoolman was teaching in the southern region of Italy conducting a graduate seminar. While in the country, he decided to visit Padua in Northern Italy when the area announced a Level Three emergency travel advisory. Schoolman quickly took what he had with him and flew from Venice to Frankfurt, Germany, to the United States. He had left all of his belongings in his apartment in Italy.
“I got warning from my chair that it’s about to happen” Schoolman said about evacuation. “I’ve been told to come back and this was before things got terrible. We didn’t really understand what was going on. Saturday night there is a whisper that Northern Italy is about to be quarantined.”
Schoolman was told to come back as soon as possible, before there was a chance he wouldn’t be able to. He packed up what little he had and fled as fast as he could, leaving his temporary life in Southern Italy.
When Schoolman returned to the U.S., he self-isolated in Tahoe for two weeks before coming back to his family in Reno. He said he would be conducting his graduate seminar online for the rest of the semester.
Schoolman said he would go back to Italy not only to retrieve his belongings, but to teach again—hopefully in the near future.
“I’d like to teach again. This was a great opportunity for me to go and be in a classroom with students who weren’t all U.S. students, but with very different backgrounds and different interests.”
Less than a week after students in Italy were required to leave, USAC announced its closure of all programs worldwide for the spring 2020 semester. Just two days after, USAC decided to cancel its Summer Session I programs as well.
Sarah Strang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @scsstrang.