Wearing a black baseball cap with “The Scarlet” printed on it in red letters, Gari De Ramos ‘21 sits in New York at her kitchen table doing work on her laptop. She is accompanied by her father in the nearby living room and her white Maltese Cody at her feet.
Just weeks ago, De Ramos was on the other side of the world, exploring Morocco on camelback with friends from her School of International Training (SIT) journalism program. “It was funny,” describes De Ramos, “because there was like this weeklong period where it went from everything is fine to everything is not fine very quickly.”
An email sent on March 12, 2020 to the Clark University student body ordered all students abroad to return due to the coronavirus pandemic. The journey home proved more difficult for some than others and left many Clark students with travel stories to tell.
On March 12, Mhairi Kilian ‘21 received two emails regarding the coronavirus: one from Clark, and one from SOAS University of London, where she was currently studying. “We were not given any information on COVID 19 [from SOAS] until there was a student on campus, who had been inside SOAS buildings, who had tested positive,” says Kilian, “And even then, the university was hesitant to move all the classes online.”
Emery Addams ‘21 was in Morocco studying Migration and Transnational Identity through SIT and had similar experiences when trying to contact the SIT administration about the pandemic. “Our staff on the ground were amazing, but SIT’s administration was providing them and us with next to nothing,” states Addams. “They were insanely bureaucratic, and very clearly just trying to prevent any possible legal action rather than actually help and protect us.”
De Ramos and Kilian were able to arrange travel and return home within days of being told to leave their programs. “It was hard having to pack up my entire life in London in three days and come back to a house that I really haven’t lived in for the past two years,” recalls Kilian. “But I would rather be here than in London not knowing when I would be able to come home.”
For Addams and fellow program participant Milena Germon ‘21, returning to the US from Morocco was more complex than just getting on a plane. Both students were in Amsterdam on a program-sponsored trip when they got the order to return home, and when they arrived back to Morocco on March 14th, chaos ensued.
“My family and I wrestled airlines and embassies and travel agencies for days without a break,” says Germon about the process of trying to get a ticket to the US, “Even though there were hints of a potential charter flight plan, no tangible help came. Morocco then suspended all international travel, leaving the rest of us panicked.”
After days of soliciting travel assistance from SIT, Germon and Addams went to the Rabat Airport in hopes of independently booking flights out of Morocco. “Though we were first in line, the line slowly became a crowd, which became a rowdy crowd, which became two near-riots with police and security involved,” recounts Germon.
“After being caught in multiple crowds, we camped outside the airport building in case things escalated, and I demanded to speak to the dean of student affairs at SIT on the phone. We expressed how traumatizing the situation was, how we didn’t eat or sleep, how we felt like we were abandoned and in danger.”
After spending many uncertain hours in and outside the Rabat Airport and over a week of attempting to return home, Addams and Germon were finally given the assistance they sought. “After all of us constantly pushing SIT, they finally booked us flights back to the US,” explains Addams. “This was over a three-day process though. By the time I actually walked into my door at home, I hadn’t slept for over 3 days.”
Despite their safe returns to the US, the financial costs of their unanticipated journeys continue to impact the Clark students. Like many others, Germon and her family are struggling to cope with the financial burden of her return. “I am currently working on and waiting to receive financial aid from both Clark and SIT in terms of reimbursements,” reports Germon, “none of which will be enough to cover the cost of getting home.”