It’s safe to say that life has changed drastically for a lot of people in the past few months. I first heard about COVID-19 around the time I arrived in Spain in January. From that moment on, there wouldn’t be a day when I didn’t check the news. The number of cases kept increasing, and very soon it was clear that this virus was a global problem.
By the end of January, Spain had its first case. It would be another 10 days until the second case. I called home frequently and updated my family on what was happening, but there seemed to be no sense of panic at that point. I had made my first trip to Madrid the same day the first case was reported, and even then I was nervous about taking the metro with so many people. By the end of February, there were 59 cases, and soon they started to almost double each day.
My friends and I would talk about the virus every day. At breakfast, before class, after class, when hanging out – it was constant. Things were getting worse, and we began to suspect that we weren’t going to finish this semester. Hand sanitiser was gone, people were buying disinfectant and rubbing alcohol, and it seemed like hand soap was running out too. The gravity of the situation was sinking in for everyone.
On the 9th of March, I was studying with a friend in our student residence. She nudged me and told me her classmates had heard authorities were about to decide whether or not they should close the schools. Soon after, news outlets reported that schools and universities in the Madrid area were closing on the 11th of March for two weeks. Some other students in the study room started cheering, but my friend and I, both Erasmus students, realised our time in Alcalá was approaching an abrupt and unexpected end.
Lockdown or not, with no university, students were already heading home and my residence emptied very quickly. On the evening of Wednesday 11th of March, after observing just how quiet the dining hall was, I decided to book a flight home, leaving that weekend. Breakfast the next morning was even quieter. Trump had announced overnight that he would soon ban entry for those coming from the EU, so the Americans were going home too.
My friend and I had planned to take photos that day, but by the end of breakfast, we realised that leaving at the weekend might too late. Back in my room, I video-called my parents and rescheduled my flight for the next day. During the call, they heard BBC News announce that Madrid was considering a lockdown. I rescheduled once again. I now had 5 hours to pack everything I could and leave for my flight in the evening.
I’ve had nightmares about last minute packing, but now I was doing exactly that. My adrenaline was insane, but I managed to pack one suitcase for the flight, and left another fully packed. I was anticipating that the airport would be busy, and decided to take just one suitcase. Whilst packing, I messaged friends, and found that at least 3 other Edinburgh students were on my flight. That helped calm my nerves, as I would have some company on my journey.
Around 3 o’clock, I was ready. My suitcases were packed, save for a printer, some food, towels and toiletries. As I closed my door, I quickly took a photo of what was now a very bare room, and headed down for my taxi.
When I got to the airport, I realised how wrong I’d been, as it was unbelievably quiet. In no time at all, I was through security. Although my flight was delayed by a few hours, I managed to meet up with the other Edinburgh students and we went home together.
I was completely exhausted, having only managed two hours of sleep the previous night and had barely eaten all day. The flight, arriving in Edinburgh, the journey home – it’s all a bit of a blur. The first thing I did when I got home was lie on the floor in my sitting room. I didn’t hug my parents, deciding I would try and keep my distance for at least the next week.
Here I am, at home, exactly 7 weeks later. My classes are online, my exams probably will be too, and I got my suitcase shipped back. I’m healthy, so is my family. Although it took me a while to get over the fact that my semester in Alcalá was over, I know how lucky I am.
Thank you to all our essential workers. Where would we be without you…