My COVID story: Coming home and looking forward

Image courtesy of Savannah Hawley

Savannah Hawley, junior French and Oxbridge: Literature and Theory major, has been studying at Oxford’s Regent’s Park College. A native of Independence, Mo., Hawley studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, in the fall semester. 

“Up until the week I left for home (March 8-15), I was planning to travel for the entirety of my break from school. Everything changed rapidly, and on that Friday, March 13, I decided to come home. Within an hour I was lucky enough to get a flight that left March 15 for Kansas City. I tried to maintain my initial travel plans up until they became untenable. I realized that even if I stayed in Europe, I would not be able to travel or even leave my housing much at all. Keeping that in mind, and wanting to be a conscientious global citizen, I made the decision to come home for at least the duration of my vacation.”

The sudden impact of the virus and its severity became rapidly apparent to Hawley.

“Initially, I did not think COVID-19 would spread as far and as fast as it did. I first realized it was bad when I changed my vacation travel plans the first time. I was supposed to spend three weeks in Italy and decided to change that after seeing how badly the virus progressed in just a matter of days. Even in monitoring the situation, I wouldn’t say I realized it was bad – instead, the status of my living in the U.K. decided it was bad for me. When the United States imposed the initial travel ban to the Schengen Zone of Europe, I knew that the U.K. would not be far behind, and that the pandemic had essentially come to a forefront in the places I call home.”

From Oxford, Hawley traveled home to Independence March 15 – just before the ban on international travel to the US was extended to the UK. 

“I was not necessarily paranoid or scared of the situation, but just wanted to stay aware and considerate [during travel home]. However, when I arrived at the airport, I became highly anxious because of the way airport personnel and travelers were acting. At Heathrow airport, the security line for my terminal was longer than I and many other seasoned travelers have seen. There were people in full hazmat suits and airport workers that varied from casual to paranoid, so I didn’t know really how to feel.”

“Once in my gate, airport personnel were checking every person’s passport and questioning them to see where they had travelled. This questioning cemented my view of the outbreak’s severity, as those who have traveled to restricted zones were not allowed on my flight. However, once I arrived at the airport in Houston, there was no screening and little questioning at customs – the customs agent did not even look at my passport, despite the fact that I have been in Europe since September.”

Hawley studied in France in the fall semester and commented on what she’d heard about the situation in  the country. 

“France acted early, although with disappointing measures at first. In the early months of their dealings with the virus – when they were still among the top three infected of European countries – they banned only gatherings with more than 1,000 people and encouraged people to stay in as much as possible. In talking with my friends recently, they’ve told me that France has now gone to a full lockdown: wherein people can leave only to get essentials or do physical activity outside during designated times. As well, almost all public places like parks and monuments have been closed. My friends who were still studying in France as of January had their studies cut short due to the U.S. travel ban, not because of actions on France’s side. As a result, almost all of them were on the first flights out that they could find and are currently in self-quarantine.”

Hawley shared her thoughts on the situation in Kansas City, compared to other places around the world.

“Kansas City has the same feel to me as what I’ve been hearing from Europe and the current situation in England. We are not as strict on our lockdown but the measures are almost the same. The only major difference I’ve found is that Americans in general – not just in Kansas City – seem to be more prone to panic buying things like toilet paper and polarization on either side of the issue surrounding actions regarding the virus.”

Less than thrilled with the communication from Jewell, Hawley gave her perspective on interactions with both Jewell and the University of Oxford during the pandemic. 

“Communications from Jewell were slow at first before I came home, when I felt I needed information the most, but have since become more frequent in regards to my safe arrival to the United States. However, I have been disappointed with a lack of communication of crucial information regarding the status of my study abroad from Jewell’s end and updates that I feel Jewell should have provided.”

“Oxford University has sent out updates on an almost weekly basis as to what their actions will be – and Regent’s Park College communicates and reiterates those updates, confirming what the University says. Although, many of those updates have not contained pertinent information beyond that the University was working to make a decision. To that end, Oxford University has decided that online teaching will occur wherever possible.”

In summation, Hawley explained how she had become comforted in this tumultuous time.

“In the beginning of all the changes, I felt like I couldn’t breath or think for almost three days, as information regarding my living and studying status seemed to change every hour. Since being home and taking stock of the past few months and the uncertain future ahead, I find comfort in the fact that I’ve still managed to have amazing experiences despite future plans that have been cancelled. Spending time with my family and dogs – more time than I’ve been able to spend with them for over a year now – has been comforting and calming despite what could have been if the pandemic did not happen.”

Catherine Dema

Catherine Dema is the page editor for Features & Investigations on The Hilltop Monitor. She is a senior majoring in Oxbridge: History of Ideas and physics.

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