Art by Ally Armstrong
When Florence was first suspended, the university placed travel restrictions on the remaining European programs. Heidelberg, Lausanne and London’s travel restrictions required students to stay in their host city until further notice. After Heidelberg and Lausanne’s suspension, London was the sole European program remaining, but students knew this was little guarantee that they would have more time abroad.
Sophomore Jenna Hale said much of the program had been dominated by a lack of information from administration at Pepperdine. Watching programs get pulled, students and program faculty were constantly waiting for any scrap of information from Malibu.
“We definitely went through a good week of time of, like, ‘Well, we’re going to be shut down, but when is it going to happen?'” Hale said.
On March 10, the group received the long-awaited notice from Pepperdine that they would return home March 14. Their reentry into the U.S. became challenging March 11, however, when President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would impose a travel ban coming and going from most European nations, excluding the United Kingdom. During the students’ flight back to the States, Trump extended this ban to include Great Britain.
More than just international politics made the return home turbulent; the London program now faces problems stateside with eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the program.
According to a Pepperdine Public Relations email sent March 30, eight students have tested positive for COVID-19, and the other members of the London program and their faculty are in quarantine for 14 days to monitor symptoms.
“We all got back Saturday [March 14], and then we didn’t get the notice that someone had tested positive for [the virus] until Monday [March 16].” Hale said. “So they were like, ‘Quarantine yourself in your room with you own bath, and don’t see the rest of your family,’ but at that point, we had kind of already seen our families.”
Sophomore Christian Parham said this has been especially hard for her because her grandmother lives with her family, and to not expose her to COVID-19, she lived in isolation in her bedroom for two weeks and continues to social distance.
“That’s definitely been difficult because it’s weird being isolated in my own house,” Parham said. “As much as I enjoy coming home and getting to see my family, I can’t really spend much time with them because I’m in my room.”
Program participants do not know who in their program has the virus, per Pepperdine policy and to respect the students’ privacy, Parham said.
Rather than causing tension in the group dynamic, Hale said the diagnoses have bonded the cohort closer.
“Everyone’s been sending nice messages in the group chat,” Hale said. “We really just want everyone to be OK. The directors are doing a really good job of giving us information and keeping us informed, making sure we’re all safe.”
Both Hale and Parham are from Sacramento, California, where the city is on official lockdown. Since coming home, Parham said she spends her days FaceTiming friends, doing homework and applying for internships, and Hale said she looks for ways to volunteer and give back in her community.
“People are trying to keep as connected as possible,” Hale said. “You can tell everyone’s sitting in their bedroom, looking at what meme is the best one we can send on the group chat.”
In London, Parham said program staff have also gone into quarantine, as they were also all exposed to the students with COVID-19. The London program director is married to the Religion professor, Hale said, and they’ve been sending out regular updates from London from their separate quarantines.
Of more concern is the program’s Arabic professor, who Hale said lives in an Irish village without Wi-Fi.
“It’ll be interesting to learn Arabic from a man with no Wi-Fi,” Hale said.
Fortunately, the university is working on ways to keep their professor connected to his students, Hale said, and he’s been able to get online.
Though the semester ended on less than desirable terms, Parham said she’s thankful for International Programs (IP) for this opportunity.
“As sad as I am to be leaving London, I just have to give a huge thank you to IP because this school year is so special and so transformative,” Parham said. “So even though it ended in this way, corona[virus] can’t take away from this year. This year was so unique and so special that I’m so grateful I got to experience it for everything it was.”
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