Students Abroad During The Coronavirus (Part 1: Reunion Island)

The spread of coronavirus has meant a large number of students have made the difficult decision to return home and cut short their much-anticipated year abroad.  No-one could have foreseen these circumstances and the rapid spread of the virus around the world has meant many people, not just students, have been left stranded far away from home, desperately trying to return. But what about those who have chosen to stay where they are? I talk to Nottingham students about how they are experiencing the global pandemic and why they decided to stay overseas.

First up, Vivina Sardo, 3rd Year Modern Language Studies student (pictured below).

Hannah Crolla-Parkhouse: Hi Vivina, what country are you currently living in?

Vivina Sardo: I’m living in L’île de la Réunion (Reunion Island), so it’s France but not Metropolitan France.

HC-P: What are you doing in your host country?

VS: I arrived on 5th January and since then I have been continuing to study languages, as part of my Modern Languages Studies degree, at Université de La Réunion.

HC-P: What’s the current situation there in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak?

VS: We started [social distancing] later compared with Metropolitan France but the virus is spreading here. There aren’t a lot of hospitals and beds so that’s what worries us.

HC-P: Why did you decide to stay? What factors were important for you in deciding to stay?

VS: I’m Italian and Italy is the country with the most cases, so I felt safer here at the beginning. But day by day, things are getting worse, so now I don’t exactly feel safe! I am self-isolating like the majority of people, I feel like there is no point going back home, travelling, being in airports and being more exposed and then in quarantine in Italy.

HC-P: What are you finding the most challenging aspect of being away from home?

“I feel judged for social distancing”

VS: It’s been frustrating because I feel judged for social distancing. I have had other students ask me why I never go to the common areas of the campus or join in playing sports. Their attitude seems to be that we will all get the virus anyway so what is the point of social distancing. But I’m trying to do what I believe is right and not expose myself and others to it. I know it’s not the nicest to stay in my room all day but if I have to do it, I will do.

(Image below is the morning before quarantine started)

HC-P: What was your family’s reaction to your decision to stay?

VS: They weren’t worried or scared at first because they knew that the situation was worse in Italy compared to L’île de la Réunion. Sometimes they say “oh, I wish you were here with us” but they know that I am doing this to be less exposed to the virus and they support my decision.

HC-P: Do you feel like there is difference in attitude towards the virus between the locals and the international students?

“The attitude we take to the coronavirus is different according to the situation in our own country”

VS: My theory is that the attitude we take to the coronavirus is different according to the situation in our own country. For me, I follow the news every day, and every day when I speak to my parents, they tell me how many people have died, how many people have recovered and so on. It’s scary because it’s a lot and it has been going on for a long time now, so I really understand how crucial it is to stay home and minimise human contact.

For other international students though, even though there are cases in their countries, it’s kind of new; it’s only been there for a few weeks now so maybe they don’t really understand how serious the situation could potentially get. They are like “yeah, whatever, there are not many cases [here], I’m still going outside”.

HC-P: Now that it is much harder to change your mind and go back home, do you feel you have made the right decision to stay?

“oh my god, I need to go back home now”

VS: Yes. The thing that you need to understand is when things started to get worse in the North of Italy, like in the Milan area, in Lombardy, there were lots of students from the south of the country who were studying there. The Italian government announced that they were going to put the whole region into lockdown. So many students thought “oh my god, I need to go back home now” and, panicking, took the last flights and trains back home, without knowing whether they were already infected with the virus or not. Because of this the virus spread rapidly.

(Image below is how people are now queuing to buy food)

I didn’t want to be one of the many students abroad or living away from home, going back and possibly spreading the virus more. So I thought, “I have to do self-isolation as well, I’m just going to do it here”. I don’t really have a good reason to go back now apart from being close to my parents and staying together but that’s the only reason I would want to go back.

HC-P: Have you been doing anything interesting to keep yourself occupied in lieu of socialising?

VS: Yesterday I started a new hobby – drawing henna tattoos on my hands with eyeliner. The problem is that two hours work gets washed away as soon as I wash my hands.

Not quite the dream of being stranded on a tropical island many might imagine. This is part one of an interview series with several students who were studying abroad when Covid-19 hit and are still in their respective countries.

Hannah Crolla-Parkhouse

Featured image courtesy of Vicente Villamón via Flickr. No changes made to this image. Image license found here.

In article images courtesy of Vivina Sardo. No changes were made to these images. 

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