By Lauren Upchurch

It has been more than two weeks since Bellarmine students got the news they would have to leave campus and return to our homes due to the spread of COVID-19. The idea of moving out on such short notice was hard for many students, but how does that process look for students who live on different continents, thousands of miles away?

“I remember knowing about the issue [of COVID-19] in general, but it was something happening so far away that I really didn’t think that much about it,” Simone Sanchez, an international student from Ecuador, said.

Sanchez said she realized something big was going to happen when the number of cases started to grow in her home country.

Colleen Dietz, a senior political science major, said that she was with two of her friends who are international students when she heard the news about Bellarmine’s campus closing.

 “I literally started to cry because I was so sad that my friends would be leaving me so soon,” Dietz said, “I think that it’s a really unfortunate situation for everyone.”

Dietz is the student director for the global peer mentor program, and she said through this role she has grown close with many of the international students on campus.

A group of BU international students. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Chi.

Although most international students have now reached their final destination, Sanchez said she has no choice but to stay on Bellarmine’s campus.

“My borders are closed until the fourth of April, even for citizens,” Sanchez said. “So even if I wanted to come back I can’t. I have to wait until then to see if my government changes the borders’ status.”

Despite the less than ideal circumstances, Sanchez said she appreciates the help provided to her during her unexpected stay on campus.

“Everyone is really supportive. I want to thank Nurse Alice and the people in Palio because they have been really cheerful. They always greet me with a smile,” Sanchez said.

Valentine Moura, an international student from Paris, France, said when she heard the news, it felt almost unreal to her.

“As soon as we heard we were going online, I knew the situation in the U.S. would get worse,” Moura said. “I let myself [have a] few days in order to sort everything out and be sure I’ll get my credits if I study from home.”

Moura said it was a struggle to change her plane ticket dates due to the French government calling back all of its citizens who were abroad at the same time.

“I’m back in Paris, but I had to be put in quarantine in my room since I flew through two airports and I didn’t want to infect my family,” Moura said. “I’m allowed to see the light this Saturday—exciting.”

Romina Vaca Puente, another international student from Ecuador, said that when she learned of Bellarmine’s closing, she was visiting her parents in New York City, where they live.

“I freaked out,” Vaca Puente said. “Mostly because I will never see one of my friends again. We didn’t say goodbye, and I knew she (Valentine) was going to go home to France to be safe with her family. After I cried because of her, I realized that didn’t have anything with me. All my clothes and everything, but my books and laptop were at school.”

Vaca Puente said Residence Life worked with her and allowed some of her friends to move her things out and keep it with them until Vaca Puente can make arrangements to pick them up.

Vaca Puente, Sanchez and Moura all praised university employees for the way it handled their situations.

“They tried to update us on a regular basis,” Moura said. “Coming from a French university where you have to figure everything by yourself, Bellarmine offered many resources.”

Stephanie Chi is a student at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and was a part of Bellarmine’s international exchange program during the Fall 2019 semester. She said when it comes to everyday life in her hometown of Hong Kong, which has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19, there have been some drastic changes.

Stephanie and a few friends in Hong Kong. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Chi.

“Hong Kong has a slower pace than before,” Chi said. “Hong Kong is full of hustle and bustle and is densely populated. Now everyone is staying at home. Instead of working for almost 10 hours, everyone is going to hike and workout.”

Hong Kong, much like the United States, has taken precautions in an attempt to lower the number of cases.

“All schools, bars and theatres are closed for 14 days,” Chi said. “Also, government [has] limited public gatherings to four people. The restaurants are required to serve only half of the customers.”

She also said she has friends who are being closely monitored after returning to Hong Kong from other countries.

“They are required to wear an electrical watch made by the government,” Chi said. “Those watches are used to supervise them when [they are] leaving their homes.”

Chi added that due to the social movements and unrest in Hong Kong last year, citizens distrust their government’s ability to handle the coronavirus properly.

 In France, similar measures are being taken by authorities to limit gatherings and slow the spread of the virus.

“We are all forced to stay at home, unless we’re getting groceries, and that’s about it,” Moura said. “We need to print out a paper specifying why we’re leaving our house, otherwise, you can get arrested and will have to pay a 135 Euro fine.” The 135 Euro fine is equivalent to $147.

One of the hardest parts for many students to wrap their heads around is that they had almost no time to say goodbye to friends, classmates and professors. For international students who might not ever be back to the United States, this hits particularly hard.

“I was really hoping for everything to go back to normal at that point and realized my friends would have to leave in less than a week when initially we had more than a month together to prepare to say goodbye,” Sanchez said.

Vaca Puente said the things she will miss the most about Bellarmine are going on food runs and spending hours talking with her friends.

“Although I am so sad without my friends, I have to keep looking on the bright side of things,” Dietz said. “At least our families are all healthy and we are safe. I find comfort in knowing that I will be with them again.”

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