Luke Stanisci ‘21
Returning from Ecuador to a Changed United States
Once merely a distant threat, coronavirus has now impacted all of our lives. This spring I had the pleasure of studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador. Every night, I watched the news with my host parents, and I still remember the first reports of a new disease popping up in China from early January, at the time thinking they would have no effect on my life. I had watched an episode of Netflix’s Explained titled “The Next Pandemic” over winter break warning of an event like this, but figured it would only affect a few thousand people, which, as sad as that is, would not have nearly the consequences we are seeing today. Naturally, I went about my abroad experience as planned, traveling every weekend to experience the beautiful cloud forests, beaches, mountains, and culture of Ecuador. By February, it became clear Europe would be hit hard and the United States was in danger, but South America remained the safest place on Earth. Our program director gave us masks as a precaution to not infect others if we were feeling sick, but there were still no COVID-19 cases within 3,000 miles of Quito.
During our trip to the Galapagos, our luck began to change as the “Enchanted Islands” lived up to their name. We found out that most Italy abroad programs had been cancelled. Quickly, our attitudes moved from complete tranquility to worries as we began to take our best guesses on how long we would last abroad before being sent home. Some of my friends argued we would be fine since Latin America was the safest place to be, but my parents seemed convinced that BC would make the call to end all abroad programs regardless of location. Evidently, they were correct, and that week of March 9th felt like the most eventful of my life.
Once Boston College cancelled classes for the year, we knew the next day we would be receiving the bad news. When I returned to homestay, my host mom had not yet checked her email, and I had to inform her that I would be leaving forever in a number of days. Needless to say, we all struggled to come with words to express our feelings that night at dinner. That weekend, we went out in Quito’s "Plaza Foch" nightlife district for one last time. Yet with police barricades everywhere, not another person in sight, and the city we had come to love now unrecognizable, it became clear it was time to return home. As I boarded my plane that Sunday, there were still only twenty reported cases in Ecuador and I was returning to a dangerous United States. Not getting a Mod five days earlier felt like a lifetime ago.
Possibly because I was disappointed enough leaving Quito, I have not found life in social isolation nearly as hard as some of my peers. In the bigger picture, my loved ones and I are safe, and that is all you can ask for in these uncertain times. With classes every day, I have managed to keep myself busy. Plus, coming home has helped me pivot towards my senior year and put more focus into club leadership commitments and planning my senior IS thesis. I loved and will never forget my experience abroad, but it still stings a bit knowing that as I write this, I was scheduled to be in Machu Picchu today. Instead of being in the Amazon Rainforest for Easter, I will be celebrating it in NJ like normal, only this time without grandparents or any extended family.
Luke Stanisci ‘21