The following story was written by Revere High School graduate Gianni Hill following his return to the United States from Spain while on junior year abroad college program. Gianni is attending Hamilton College in New York.
I was sitting down to eat lunch with my host family in Madrid when I received a text alert on my phone saying, “Dear Students, the program has officially been closed, and you must all evacuate the country as soon as possible.” The rest of the message urged all of us to leave within the next 24 hours in order to avoid any complications from the President’s EU travel restrictions that would go into effect the next day at midnight (Friday, March 13). There was great uncertainty about who would be allowed back into the U.S. and what quarantine procedures would look like.
I met with some friends at Retiro Park, Madrid’s “Central Park,” after lunch to sort out travel arrangements and enjoy one last walk around the city. We decided to call the U.S. Embassy in Madrid before doing anything else. We wanted to know if they knew anything about flight cancellations to the U.S. or if the airport in Madrid would be closing in the coming days. They did not give any clear answers.
There were no flights available from Madrid to the U.S. on that Friday, so I had to book the next available flight on Saturday, the morning after the travel restriction had gone into effect. I was a bit nervous at first about the implications of leaving past the midnight deadline, but my parents reassured me that I would be able to get home. I just had to undergo additional screening when landing at Logan. Fortunately, Logan was one of several airports across the country that would continue to receive international flights from Europe.
I spent all of Friday packing up my belongings. It felt so surreal. Just two days prior on Wednesday, Madrid and other parts of Spain had closed down all schools and universities for 15 days. My program director told us that we would move to online classes for the two weeks then resume classes at the center. She was very optimistic about the situation improving for Madrid and for Spain as a whole. I think President Trump’s announcement about the travel restriction caused a lot of panic for U.S. citizens abroad in Europe. Ultimately, I am glad I came home when I did, as the situation here quickly escalated as well.
Getting home proved to be more difficult than expected. When I arrived at the airport in Madrid, I waited over an hour to check my bags. Every single person had a mask on in the airport, and it was an overall eerie atmosphere. Some people had goggles and gloves as well. My flight was delayed twice, and we also waited over an hour once we boarded the plane because there was a shortage of air traffic controllers due to illness. I landed at Logan late Saturday night, and we were asked to remain in our seats to complete a form. The form asked where I was coming from and where I was going. It also asked if I had any symptoms of Coronavirus. I was greeted by representatives from the CDC just outside the door of the plane who took my temperature on my forehead, asked me a few questions, then handed me an informational packet. They recommended that I self-quarantine for two weeks and that I check my temperature twice a day for a fever. It was a long day of traveling and unfortunate that I had to leave Madrid, but I am glad to be back home with my family right now.
I am still taking my classes online with my professors in Spain, but it does not compare to the experiences I had while in Madrid. My program through Hamilton College requires all students to sign a Spanish-only pledge for the semester; I had the chance to improve my Spanish immensely by speaking it everyday and by living with a Spanish host family. I was lucky enough to intern for a fair trade non-profit in Madrid as well. It was hard to say goodbye to all of the new friends I made and to my host family. I was able to travel all around Spain and other parts of Europe, but I still have so much to see. I look forward to the day when I can go back!