It has been less than a week since my first update on living abroad during the coronavirus outbreak. Everything has changed drastically since writing that. My school decided to allow staff to work from home (including the auxiliares-- no babysitting afterall!). Trump declared a travel ban from Europe to the USA for non-US citizens. Spain decided to lockdown. Ciee suspended their programs in Europe (including the Teach in Spain Madrid program that I am a participant of). I am at home in Vermont with my family and I don’t know when (or if) I’ll be able to return to my position as a Language Assistant in Spain.
Before we get into all of that, let’s back up to Tuesday, March 10th when I drafted the following:
While I was applying to the CIEE Teach in Spain program, my biggest fear was that one of my grandparents would pass away while I was living abroad. I wrote about this in my application, I expect that there will be an important family event that I will not be able to attend. I will overcome this by staying in touch and facetiming with my family when possible. I will also set aside some savings to be able to buy a last minute plane ticket home if needed.
This fear came true. At first, I missed good news (an exciting announcement at Thanksgiving dinner). Then my grandfather suffered a stroke and passed away three weeks later. Fortunately, I was able to afford a last minute flight to visit my grandfather right after the stroke occured. I feel so incredibly blessed to have been able to visit him for a few days and have these recent memories close to my heart.
My grandfather passed away the same day that NYC declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus. I booked my flight back (a surprisingly cheap ticket) the day before Madrid announced that it would be closing schools till March 26th. I am flying to JFK the same day that the schools in Madrid are closing. If all goes well, I will be back in Spain on Sunday, March 15th.
I am not fearful of catching the virus. I am fearful that I may be unable to make it to the funeral or return to Spain safely.
Wednesday, March 11th-- Travel day (Madrid to Lisbon to JFK)
I had expected travel to be different but it really didn’t feel that strange. The airports were still bustling and my flight from Lisbon to JFK was packed.
However, on the cab ride from the airport to the funeral home, I started receiving alarming texts from my friends.
“Are you sure you will be able to go back to Spain on Sunday?”
“Did you see the news?!”
“You should change your flight!”
Trump had just announced his travel ban for non-US citizens flying from Europe to the United States. My stomach dropped-- were airlines going to cancel flights? Should I go home? Is Spain even safe right now?
While in New York...
Over the next few days, I checked the news and my email whenever there was a lull in the funeral events. I wanted to be present for my grandfather's funeral but the current state of the world was very distracting. The world was in a completely different place than when I booked my flights on Sunday the 8th. I had no idea how quickly everything would change and I have no idea how much more could change in the coming week.
When CIEE announced that they were suspending their Teach in Spain program, I knew I would have a hard time arguing with my mom that I should fly back to Spain. CIEE encouraged all participants to return home to the states as soon as possible. We have the option to continue our position as Language Assistants but with very limited assistance from CIEE for the time being. The Language Assistant program through the Community of Madrid has not been cancelled yet.
As videos started appearing of Madrid in lockdown and police driving around to fine people for taking walks in parks, I knew that flying back to Spain on Sunday the 15th was no longer a valid option. Not only is there a chance that I would be quarantined in the airport but I also think I wouldn't be able to handle being completely isolated after losing my grandfather. It sounds silly and selfish but I really need hugs and social interaction right now.
Monday, March 16th
For now, I am spending my quarantine in Vermont. It is easy to practice social distancing in a place where there are more cows than people (that isn’t quite true… there are about 600k people and only 200k cows). I am eager to return to Spain but I do not have a return flight back yet. I am keeping a close eye on the news and hope to make it back before Madrid schools reopen (possibly March 26th but that will likely change).
This is a very overwhelming time and I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to spend it with my family (especially, with my dog).
I hope everyone is staying safe and sane during this crazy time!