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Honors College Blog | Bridging the Social Distance | Carolanne Walls

Carolanne Walls standing on a beach on Inis Mor
Carolanne Walls enjoying the beach on Inis Mor during her last trip while abroad in the Aran Islands.

In the future, I can see kids researching the COVID-19 outbreak and the world’s response to it. I can picture my kids and grandkids asking me where I was when the virus really started to spread. Well, I was closer to it than I thought I would be. I was in Limerick, Ireland in the Spring of 2020. I was supposed to spend 4 months at the University of Limerick for education and exposure to the world outside the United States. Come February, we were getting notifications and warnings about COVID-19, saying please stay inside if you travelled to China.

But then the virus spread to Italy, and chaos started. Beginning of March we were all still refusing to believe this was going to affect us. We were all starting to book trips around Europe for Easter break (first week of April). My friend Jack had to cancel his trip to Italy, we had to reconsider our trip to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. We still planned on travelling, but just not as far. Everything worked as normal, until we started getting emails saying programs had been cancelled and home universities had called back their students. Luckily the weekend before I went to Dublin for fun. We got back and everything went crazy.

Italy and Spain were the worst and Ireland was starting to shut down. All of us refused to leave and thought to travel around Ireland instead of Europe for the duration of the semester. Then March 12th came, and campus shut down. Classes were now online, and it became very real how much of a threat the virus was. Our program actually got cancelled on the next day. Our advisor Mary decided as a last hoorah to take us to the Aran Islands, the big trip of the semester. At this point my family and I planned on me leaving the next Friday. So I went to the Aran islands and had a great time, but the travel ban to Ireland and the UK was announced. Luckily for me, my mom and dad were in Boston and were able to get me a ticket on a flight from Shannon to Boston on the 17th. We enjoyed the rest of our weekend as much as possible, but there was this unspoken fear between me and my friends.

At first, we refused to leave, but as soon as we got back from the Aran Islands, all of us just wanted to get home. Buses around the country were starting to shut down and flights were getting cancelled. It felt as if a net was closing in around us. I can’t imagine what evacuating a war zone is like, but if the panic I felt when I was trying to get out of the country was a fraction to war, then I pray that no one has to experience anything like that.

When the plane took off from Shannon, it felt as if a huge weight was just lifted off my shoulders. I flew from Shannon to Boston (7 hours), then Boston to Denver (5 hours). I did the math, and I was travelling for around 25 hours between sitting in airports and taking taxis and being on planes. I was one of the lucky ones too, I only had two flights. Some of my friends travelled through four airports by the time they got home.

So now I am sitting at home, drinking a cup of coffee and watching the snow fall onto the front lawn of my childhood house, and I keep feeling like a coward or a wimp for being overwhelmed and emotional. My parents keep reminding me that this entire experience was traumatic, but I am not sure I agree. It is strange to think that it was over the course of 48 hours that everything just changed. One day we were refusing to the leave, then we were doing anything to get home. My story is not meant for sympathy because I know people who have it much worse than I do. I am beyond lucky that I made it home safe and I count my blessings that my friends and family are safe. The point of this, at least for me, is to acknowledge that everyone is going through something similar to this. As everyone has been saying, we are all in this together. One day, when this is all over, we can look back and tell our kids that we survived this.

Carolanne Walls is a sophomore and a Communications Major and Honors minor.

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