NOTE: The Optic newspaper in Las Vegas, N.M., published an article written by Bo Hou ’21, China, about student journeys home after the spread of COVID-19 to the United States.
By Bo Hou
Submitted to the Optic
The United World College USA announced the evacuation of all its students from the Montezuma campus on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The journey for many students returning to their home countries was difficult and show the true worldwide impact of the pandemic.
First-year student Valentín Cáceres Martí, from Spain, took a 16-hour flight from Albuquerque to Atlanta, Amsterdam, and Grau de Gandia, his city in Spain. Once landing on the small airport in Grau de Gandia, Marti saw an empty space with few people.
Once he asked a female assistant the way to the exit and, “she immediately moved three meters away from me and covered her face. That’s when I realized COVID-19 was really bad in Spain,” he said.
“When I met my parents in the green grocery that they owned, my mother was so happy that she screamed my name so hard, almost out of breath. People nearby were scared and asked whether they needed to contact doctors for her.”
Though quite happy for his return, Marti’s parents’ attitude changed after two weeks.
“They said they feel so bad for me because the COVID-19 ruined all my experiences,” he said.
Grau de Gandia is a small city in Spain, but it was hit hard by COVID-19, leading to military intervention.
“I saw the military enter my city for the first time because of COVID-19,” Marti said. “There are a lot of people here and I feel so sorry for them.”
One of his relatives was infected as well.
“My aunt lives in the capital of my region, where many people got infected for the coronavirus, and she showed some symptoms like breath difficulty. She was not allowed to work and only stay at home. But she is over the hump now.” Marti said.
After coming back to the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, where Ari Kazantseva, a first-year student from UWC-USA, lives, she found out the government wass using digital passes to enforce the COVID-19 virus lockdown on its 3.2 million residents. The region 250 miles east of Moscow implemented an indefinite quarantine, according to news reports. Residents are only allowed to leave their homes for groceries or medicine, to walk their pets or to throw out the trash. A QR code pass system is being used to monitor residents.
Anastasia Bonivento, a first-year student from Italy, originally planned to stay in California, hosted by her classmate’s family, for several weeks.
“At the time, it seemed stupid to make an important decision on whether or not to go home to a country with the most coronavirus infections in the world,” Bonivento said.
But a few days after arriving in California, the Italian embassy emailed her a list of direct flights to Rome organized by the government to repatriate Italian citizens.
“I took the first available flight on April 4,” she said.
Now, she is in quarantine in her old home in Trieste in northeastern Italy.
“My family is really happy that I am back in Italy,” Bonivento said. “Unfortunately, I cannot stay with them in the new home in Slovenia as the Internet doesn’t work well. But I don’t worry too much and can invite a friend to live with me.”
Many students, though, like Daniela Rivas, a first-year student from El Salvador, could not go back home. On the same day as the announcement was released from the school, the president of El Salvador announced the country’s borders were closed.
“I couldn’t go home,” Rivas said. “In addition, people returning to El Salvador were sent to containment centers for 30 days to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which does not provide good hygienic conditions.”
Now, she is living with her get-away family, Kathy and Bill Hendrickson, in Las Vegas.
“My days here are amazing,” Rivas said. “Kathy and I bake, cook and play Scrabble. Bill never fails to initiate a conversation about interesting topics. And I enjoy their dog, Ziggy, and cats, Charlie and Lucy.”