While in Argentina, each day brought an increasing amount of updates that we could barely foresee the day before. In a sense, it felt like trying to think faster than the virus. But contagion was just too fast for us to see what was about to come. We were just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Many questions would emerge. Our program staff tried their best to answer with accuracy and transparency all of them. But with ‘unknown unknowns’ it becomes hard to know all answers. At the quick rate at which the pandemic was declared, it became hard to even know which questions were relevant.
I remember that during the end of the second week of the program, one of the students (from a different university) was asked by the university to return to the US. The reason: coronavirus was too concerning and risky for the students. Many moral and emotional discussions emerged. Some argued that the students should have the right to decide to stay or not. In hindsight, their university was right. It was all just a matter of time.
Within a week from then, many other universities started recalling their students. While many were in denial, I had come to realize that eventually all of us would, and that mine was just buying time for me. However, it was extremely complicated to have a plan when groundbreaking news was coming every day. While the virus was not a major concern in the area then, I decided that I had to take every chance I had to explore Buenos Aires. I started following my list of places to visit and things to eat. At the same time, I started to come in contact with Northwestern staff, who were extremely helpful and supportive throughout this process.
Then, I heard from my friends that Northwestern’s winter quarter would not end in person, as had been planned. I felt lucky to be away from the US, given that I was exposed to less risks. Some days later, when nearly half of the students in my program were getting recalled, Northwestern gave me the option to consider my choices and decide whether to stay or not. However, less than an hour after that call, my study abroad program was cancelled by IFSA, the program provider, and I was asked to leave the country within the next 4 days. Of course this was not the study abroad experience that anyone would imagine or want. I felt grateful for seeing a good amount of places in Buenos Aires before I was asked to leave. Many problems were emerging- flights were being cancelled, there was a shortage of flights. Most importantly – my home country’s airport had been shut down the day my program was cancelled. Despite a few very stressful hours, I was fortunate to obtain the support of my relatives and from Northwestern so that I could move to a safe place in the US.
Everyone around me was going through a stressful time. Concerns were not only about flights. People were posting and talking about a coming economic crisis. Some of us worried about the increasing influence and control that governments were exerting on their citizens. Dystopian novels became a more common topic of conversation. 1984 started appearing on headlines, magazines and newspapers. I write from a moment in which most of these issues have not been resolved. But a glimmer of hope lies in the solidarity that we have witnessed in these past weeks. That same solidarity that people like me were fortunate to have to move to a safe and comfortable zone from which to live through the pandemic.