I will not take back my personal words about how things were perfectly fine before. Because at the time it was. People were still acting as normal, and life was carrying on as it should have been. And that is how I feel we got ourselves into this mess in the first place.
I want you to imagine being young in a new country…and thinking that you’re going to start this new life and this new journey. You want to explore, you want to meet new people, and start a whole new persona almost. Not that anything was wrong with my last persona, it’s just something people tend to do when they pick up and move.
Now I want you to picture being barely three months in and this new “life” that you envisioned for yourself is halted abruptly and you have to carefully re-evaluate your next moves due to some crazy circumstance. I know “life happens” and “life isn’t fair”, but it truly sucks the situation that I have been put in, and not really knowing the right or wrong moves to make. Also to be clear, I am not writing these blogs as a “poor me” or for sympathy. I am trying to put into perspective what’s going on halfway across the world and the choices that were presented to me that put me in this position and maybe someone reading this will resonate with it as well.
Ever since the first news of the outbreak in Italy broke, people have been begging me to come home. Family (mom), friends, and even some strangers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. They were concerned and wanted me to be safe. I have appreciated all the concerns and love, I really have. It has been overwhelming at times to have that many messages about my safety or health.
I, for one, was never in a rush to board the next plane home once in the three weeks of this chaos. Mostly because I am stubborn, but also because I still was in the “I am chasing a dream here, so please stop” mindset. I still am chasing a dream, or attempting to through a computer screen Monday – Saturday.
I could have gotten on a plane back the US, that first day I found out school was cancelled instead of on a plane to Paris, sure. But then get put in isolation for how long when I am back in the States? When was school going back into session? Those questions were not clear at the time.
Then one week turned into two weeks of no school. I was thinking “alright, cool, school is out for two weeks, but still online. It’s starting to get more serious I guess? But things are still open? Everyone is acting fine?” There was not a real panic here.
I was on the phone daily with my dad trying to process if I should come back. What if I do come back and again someone puts me in quarantine for Lord knows how long…and then I get an email about school is going back in the following week? I just wasted time, money, and whatever else trying to come back home to turn around and go all the way back to Italy.
Quickly two weeks turned into more than a month. Here is where the big decision was. We got word that schools might not be returning to face-to-face sessions until April on Friday, March 6. Nothing was official yet, it was just an article of what could happen. But still raised concerns that MAYBE I should go back to the States. Then, the ministry decided to close the Lombardy Region on Saturday March 7. I had booked a train to go to Florence to visit a friend who lives there, but that quickly got reevaluated with the concerns of being locked out of Milan when I wanted to return. During this time, we had still not received official word from my University what was going on so I could not make a rash decision to board a plane to the States if the “school closure until April” was not a real thing.
Lombardia was closed starting Sunday, March 8, basically. Most major public transit had been closed off unless necessary. People here finally started to “panic”. I put panic in quotation marks because it wasn’t a real, panic that you would think. More or less people just questioned how daily life was going to carry out. Everything was changing day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour. Also, mind you, my school has still not yet notified us that the Lombardy region was closed off or that there are talks to close schools until April. I have my own opinions on that, especially concerning the international students who are still in Milan because they hadn’t been given warning about what was really happening. But thats for another time.
Let me insert here as well, that if you have ever been to Milan, you know that there are three airports, the only airport to really leave for long distances (such as the States) from is Malpensa. To get to this airport, you have to board a train for about 45-50 min. It’s quite a hike to get out there.
On Monday night, March 8, when I got the notification that they had drafted a decree to put the whole country on a lockdown, I was on the phone with my step mom. I think my mind went blank because I cannot remember exactly what I said or how I processed it initially. Hearing basically that I was officially “stuck”.
We had a small window to leave for the most part but only if you were not inside the already locked down Lombardy region. That’s the tricky part. Like I said, things were changing day-to-day, hour-to-hour. No one really knew, if we were able to go outside, what was open, if we were allowed to be on the trains, trams or metros and what the next days were going to bring.
So my choice here was to call my dad again and the embassy. To ask them what I was to do. Should I leave? Could they help me leave? What was going on and how should I move forward. We talked for some time and I came to the conclusion I was still going to stay. That my choices to stay here might be better, especially with the developing outbreaks just hitting the States.
Wednesday night, for Americans, very VERY early Thursday morning for me, after doing a couple of FaceTime interviews with different news outlets, I was asleep and my phone BLEW UP (sometimes I feel like y’all forget there is a 5/6 hour time difference). I had 7 missed calls, 16 text messages, a few insta DM’s, hella FB messages etc. etc. about Trump finally announcing the travel ban. People officially begging more than ever for me to come back to the States. Telling me to abandon everything here, and just come back to be with my friends and family in North Carolina… even though I haven’t even lived there in two years. Saying I have until Friday to leave.
It was then, in that moment at 4 am on Thursday morning when I should have been sleeping that I decided I was going to stay put in Italy. Against what everyone had told me because thats what they thought was best. Against my moms message to buy me a plane ticket home. Against the pleads of random strangers once again telling me something and how to make a decision in my life situation.
And I will tell you why.
I currently feel more safe in Italy than I would returning back to the States. With the outbreak and spreading of this virus just now taking an impact (or not) on people back home, I see how far the American people have to go to get over this. Im not criticizing anyone, I am surely not trying to place blame on anyone. I am just simply saying that Italy has been ahead of this outbreak for three weeks now. They closed schools after the first case was mentioned. They locked down regions, and now the whole country to help combat this and stop the spread. The United States are just seeing the beginning of this, and still not fully prepared on what is to come. Rushing to the stores, clearing the shelves in bulk of all its belongings (I am still confused on the toilet paper part, but okay) and saying you’re going to “quarantine yourselves” but still going out to dinner and bars to have a nice night out. You aren’t really doing much.
The only way to get ahead of what’s to come is to ACTUALLY stop these behaviors and ACTUALLY stay away from people. I will be the first to admit I thought / still think this virus is not a big deal TO ME. That said, it’s a big deal and can affect other people in the process. Staying indoors now and learning to be by myself is the best practice. I mean also because apparently if you’re out and about in Italy now without a real purpose you can be fined or even incarcerated. I personally like isolation in my apartment is better rather than an Italian jail.
So when you’re out and about, still not taking it seriously yet because it’s not going to “affect you”, try to think about the people who are taking it seriously and are only out to take care of other people. My step mom for example, she’s a flight attendant and like nurses, who have to continue their jobs, so does she. I have been fearful for her and how her line of work puts her on the frontlines on how this thing got spread in the first place. Also the fact that she has two elderly parents that she cares for on her days off. She may not get sick but its always been a fear that she’s caring this virus and pass it to them…with a bad outcome to follow. My fear through this whole thing has never been for myself. I never once considered myself in danger of this virus, because I feel that I am of good health and I’m sure I can combat it perfectly fine. My fear now is for the people who probably will not be able to come out on the good side of it.
So yes, there have been (x) amount of cases reported and (x) amount of recoveries worldwide, BUT the people who cannot recover might be someones mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, loved one, family friend, anyone. I would hate to be the person who decided to finally leave Italy and come back to the States carrying it, get in contact with someone and then get someone else sick.
Am I lonely? Yes, very. I posted about how I finally cried about my isolation and it hit me hard that night. My personality and the type of person I am in general does not do well in this environment. But I will continue to stay in isolation and be out of school, the reason I am here, until the whole world gets on board with what is happening and how to stop it. So before you post another tweet, FB post, meme, etc. about it “not being a big deal” and it “not affecting you”, think about the people who are seeing this as a big deal because they might be the immune compromised, they might be the ones caring for others, they might be the nurse who has to go to work regardless.
My choice to stay in Italy was for me and because I feel like Italy is going to recover from this long before the States do. I just pray that it ends soon, and everyone world wide can go back to “normal”.