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  • Sarah Louise Rhodes//Mary-Kathryn Raley

Italy Interrupted: Told by Sarah Louise Rhodes

The time that I got to spend abroad in Florence, Italy was a dream come true, however it unexpectedly got cut short by the coronavirus outbreak that is currently reshaping all of our realities.

I am a double major in Political Science and Art History with a minor in Studio Art, so Italy seemed like the best place I could possibly go when I was choosing where I wanted to study abroad. I arrived in Italy on January 26th and was immediately immersed in the amazing history of the country and got to study many famous works of art and landmarks firsthand. We traveled with a class of abroad students through Rome, then to Orvieto, Assisi and Perugia before finally making it to Florence on February 2nd. My classes in Florence were some of the most interesting and engaging classes I had ever been in - in one of my classes we walked through Florence every Thursday morning for a couple hours just looking at famous sites and learning about the history of the city. In an art class I had we would walk to spots in the city and draw them in our sketchbooks. It was so much fun to be immersed in the city and learn so much about the place that I was living in.

I got to live with one of best friends in ADPi, Wimberly Zadig, in Florence which not only made adjusting to life in Italy so much easier, but it was so much fun to be able to share all of these experiences of a lifetime with a Beta Epsilon sister! We got to travel together throughout Italy and to Paris, France during our time abroad. Adjusting to Italian life was definitely a change from how we live in the US. Instead of buying food for the week, many Italians go to the grocery store every day to get fresh food for lunch or dinner. Another difference was that people don’t drive (or Uber) anywhere - we were walking five to ten miles every day to and from class and to the other errands we needed to run. Experiencing another culture was so exciting and I completely fell in love with the Italian lifestyle. Unfortunately, our semester was cut short by the outbreak of COVID-19, and we had to return back to the United States three months earlier than expected, only one month into our abroad experience.

On Saturday, February 22nd, Wimberly and I were on a field trip to Prato when we heard about the few cases of Coronavirus in the northern parts of Italy.

We didn’t think too much of it at the time because we thought it was controlled, but it soon proved to be the opposite. By Tuesday of that week, February 25th, the case number had gone up exponentially and it started to really concern us, but the thought of coming home was not on our minds yet. Only three days later, February 28th, Wimberly and I booked a flight for me to come home the very next day. In those 3 days the situation in Italy deteriorated drastically and it was clear that it would not be getting better anytime soon. Our study abroad program advised us to leave, and assured us that we would be able to continue our classes remotely via an online class platform. We got to the airport on Saturday the 29th, and when we arrived at the airport we got an email from USC telling all students in our program to come home. It was relieving to know that we were doing the right thing, but we were so sad that this situation was worsening in Italy and that we wouldn’t be able to stay abroad for as long as we had planned.

I’ve been back in the US for a month now, and even though I miss our little Italian apartment and the amazing city of Florence, I am happy to be home safe with family. I feel so fortunate that I and the other USC students were able to return home safely. All of my thoughts and prayers are now with that city that I got to call home for a short amount of time, as well as with everyone who is being affected by the virus. Of course, I wish that our situation had been different but I am so grateful to have had even the short time in Italy that I did! I know now that I have a reason to go back one day - to do everything that I didn’t get the chance to do in our short time abroad.

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