Like most of my fellow Mitchell Scholars, what began as a semi-ordinary week in March ended with last-minute flights home, as we desperately tried to outpace the border closures that began to fall one by one. To provide some perspective on how quickly these events transpired, I thought it might be prudent to dedicate my blog post to a timeline:
- March 6: I turned in a group project that I had been working on the entire week. I wasn’t thinking about COVID-19.
- March 9: I went to my regular Monday class. My friend and I tried to predict when University College Cork might close. We thought it might take another week; it actually took 3 days. We were still tentatively hopeful about a trip to Kyiv we had scheduled for March 22.
- March 10: My last class, though I didn’t know it at the time. I had my normal Tuesday lunch date with my neighbor.
- March 12: At 1 a.m. GMT President Trump announced he was “suspending all travel from Europe to the United States” and neglected to mention that Ireland was exempt. Later that day, the Irish government orders all higher education institutions to close effective immediately. My parents and I agree it’s time to come home.
- March 13: Carolina kindly books my first flight; I’m scheduled to fly out March 18. I have an online exam scheduled for March 16. My friend and I grab coffee; he’s still thinking of going to Kyiv. Ukraine closes their borders to foreign nationals that night.
- March 14: President Trump announces that the United Kingdom and Ireland will also be subjected to a travel ban, effective at midnight March 16. Carolina kindly moved my flight to March 16; my March 18 flight would have been cancelled as it was meant to arrive at the airport closest to my home and not one of the 13 cleared for screening.
- March 15: My friend, who I was supposed to go to Kyiv with, helps me pack everything I had brought with me into 3 suitcases. My mom would later comment on how excellent his packing skills were. Like the previous 5 days, my neighbor and dear friend fixed me dinner. She knows I’d struggled to focus on anything else for the past week, and had unilaterally decided to become my personal chef. I am eternally grateful to her.
- March 16: My neighbor sees me off to the airport at 5 a.m. We hug, even though we’re not supposed to; we figure at this point, with us eating together for five days, it probably doesn’t matter. The flight is barely a quarter full. I sleep across the four seats I have to myself. I wash my hands so often the skin on the backs of my hands begins to flake off. I land at 3:45 p.m. at Raleigh Durham International Airport. They ask me where I have been for the last 3 weeks. My mom cries when she hugs me; she has never cried picking me up from the airport before. We head home. It’s my brother’s 21st birthday; my mom tells him I’m his present.