For many students studying abroad across the world, their trips were cut short as the United States started to take COVID-19 more seriously. Millersville University junior, Carly O’Neill, is no exception when she had to come home early from taking classes in Paris, France.
O’Neill left for Paris on February 2, and like typical study abroad trips, her first week was filled with orientation and exploring around the city that would now be her home for the foreseeable future.
This trip was filled with many firsts for O’Neill. Although she had been to Paris before with her dad in 2017, she had never traveled alone, especially to another country. She had to navigate international airports by herself. Then four weeks into her trip, she experienced every traveler’s worst nightmare. While waiting in a Paris McDonalds, she felt a tug on her pocket and before she knew it, her phone was missing. Unable to get it back, she went four days without a cell phone and had to rely on her prior knowledge to navigate to and from class and around the city. This eye-opening experience allowed O’Neill to appreciate that beyond material objects and depend on only what was around her.
While studying at the Catholic Institute of Paris (Institut Catholique de Paris), her one course entitled Fashion in France from the 18th-21st Century, allowed students to visit museums like the Louvre for a more in depth and interactive learning experience. By having class everyday, O’Neill fell into a routine of keeping busy while taking advantage of the unique restaurants and stores around Paris. Shakespeare and Company, an independent bookstore in the city, became her favorite place to relax with a good book and pet the store’s resident cat.
A few weeks into the trip, more cases of COVID-19 started to emerge. “We had started hearing that cases were popping up in Milan and Spain. Fashion Week was happening and people were coming to Paris from Milan. Even with this happening, no one ever seemed to think it would shut down the whole study abroad program,” O’Neill says.
By the end of February, there were other Millersville students studying abroad who were already recalled home to the United States, as situations were getting more serious in Italy and South Korea. While her Paris institute had every intention of staying open, O’Neill explains, “It was very discouraging to hear this all happening.”
On March 4, not long after other students were being sent home, Millersville sent out an email to all students studying abroad in Europe or Asia, stating that they were required to return home by March 11. This was regardless of the current CDC travel warnings for whichever country they were in. The main concern for the University was that students would run into challenges in accessing health care or face travel restrictions if they waited too long to bring students back. The email states, “The University has decided to recall all students from Europe and Asia as a precaution to protect your health and well-being.”
O’Neill spent her last week in Paris trying to fit everything in that she still wanted to see, as well as buying last minute souvenirs. She comments on the time frame of having to head back home, “I never thought we would come back as early as we did. I thought we would stay at least until April.” Even with having to leave France early, O’Neill took every advantage to explore around Europe, including a last minute trip with some friends to London for her final weekend abroad.
New travel arrangements needed to be dealt with as O’Neill now had to move her flight up to travel back home. On top of that, there was also the chaos of calling Millersville and the affiliate program that she was studying abroad through, International Studies Abroad or ISA, to try and get her credits all sorted out. In the end, O’Neill took a connecting flight through London to get back to the United States. Here, she adjusted to the time difference and the new online class platform, as well as facing a mandatory 14 day self-quarantine. While those two weeks were required, she would soon be dealing with a much longer quarantine issued by PA’s Governor, Tom Wolf.
Studying abroad is a life-changing experience that O’Neill will carry with her in all her future endeavors. Although her four month trip got cut short, O’Neill looks back, “It felt good to know I could walk somewhere, navigate around, and get back to my host family’s house by myself. I was getting used to living in France without being a tourist. In the end, I tried to see as much as I could with the time I had.”