Sophia Belshe stands on a rooftop in Barcelona

Sophia Belshe was forced to leave her study abroad trip to Spain early after the coronavirus made Spain a Level 3 country.

Jayhawks abroad

"You need to book a flight. Now." 

My roommate shook me awake at 3:30 a.m. Thursday, saying we needed to pack our bags and leave Spain, following a statement from President Donald Trump that appeared to suspend all travel from Europe to the United States due to an outbreak of novel coronavirus. 

I've been studying abroad in Barcelona for just over two months, with the ever-present threat of COVID-19 looming over my trip. My friends and I watched as friends, friends-of-friends, even siblings studying in Italy were evacuated, and we hoped Spain wouldn't be next on the chopping block. But in the early hours of Thursday, we learned that we were being sent home. 

My roommate woke me up in the middle of the night following Trump's announcement. I was immediately on the phone with my parents, who assured me that what Trump said couldn't have been what he meant; they couldn't be closing the door on U.S. citizens needing to get home from Europe. They told me to go back to sleep, and we would deal with it in the morning. 

Several of my classmates booked flights in the middle of the night and were leaving Spain by 8 a.m. on Thursday. Some of them went directly from the club to pack their apartments to the airport, without sleeping. But I went back to bed. 

I'm studying through an independent program — what the University of Kansas Office of Study Abroad calls a Student Initiated Program — and my resident director sent an email shortly after Trump's announcement that told us not to panic; our program would continue as normal because there was still no Level 3 travel warning from the CDC. 

But less than three hours later, my roommate woke me up again. The CDC issued a travel warning for all of Europe, which meant our program was suspended. We had one week to clear out of our apartment and travel home. 

I had been anticipating this for about two weeks. Ever since Italy was moved up to a Level 3, there was serious uncertainty about the fate of my program. I was cautiously optimistic, thinking we might be able to make it at least a few more weeks. The number of cases in Barcelona still wasn't reaching Italy-levels, but as cases spiked in the last few days, it seemed like only a matter of time. 

Even though this news seemed inevitable, it still came as a shock. It happened quicker than anyone expected. Spain went from having no travel warning to being a Level 3. Up until a few days ago, most of the Spanish people I knew weren't even worried. I got the sense that the panic was American-made, so I avoided Twitter and tried to push away the thought of going home.

It was surreal knowing my trip was being cut short. My classes will move online, and I will go home, with no place to live in Lawrence, no job lined up and no in-person classes to attend. My entire plan for the semester had been uprooted. I was supposed to travel to Paris on Friday for the weekend, but that clearly wouldn't be happening.

On Thursday, everyone was frantically trying to book flights back. My program and the Office of Study Abroad made themselves available to help, but there's little they could really do to ease the chaos of everyone trying to evacuate the country in less than a week. 

It's a privilege that my parents work with a travel agent who was able to get a flight for me on Monday without much trouble. But many people in my program shelled out over $2,000 to get flights over the weekend.

My friends will slowly trickle out of Barcelona over the next few days, and I'll depart on Monday. In these last few days, we're trying to cram in as much sightseeing as we can and say abrupt goodbyes to the city we've lived in for two months, and the friends we've made along the way. 

Even though the official cancellation brought some ease to the uncertainty of the last few weeks, there's even more uncertainty ahead. We all speculate about what security measures we'll encounter, whether any of us could already have the virus, and what it will be like self-quarantining for two weeks upon arrival in the U.S. 

But the overwhelming feeling is not really fear — it's disbelief. I have whiplash from how quickly things progressed, and it still doesn't feel real. It's like living out a movie or a bad dream, except there's no guarantee of how it will end.

Sophia Belshe is a sophomore from Overland Park studying journalism and political science.