Q&A: Study abroad student reflects on time in Italy during COVID-19 outbreak

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Peter Loganbill, Collegian News Editor: “I think you said you were there for about a month. When did you start to realize what was happening?”

Emma Witter, junior in mass communications: “Well, it was weird because people were already talking about the coronavirus before I even left. I was at the airport with my family getting ready to leave from St. Louis and there was a dude next to me in line with a mask on and I remember feeling kind of weird about it. I was like, ‘OK, I know people have been talking about this, but it’s definitely not that big of a deal.’

“We were kind of like, making jokes about it like ‘make sure you have hand sanitizer on the plane’ and stuff like that, but it just didn’t feel like a big deal. I would keep hearing about it on the news, what was happening in China and as it was kind of spreading a little bit, but it didn’t feel personal to me at all or to my situation. I would talk about it with my roommates, no one was really concerned.

“Then, I guess it must have been like a week, or a week or two before I actually left Italy that it became real. Like, ‘OK, this is actually happening.’ I said this in my article, I can’t remember exactly what weekend it was, but two of my roommates took a trip to Milan for Fashion Week. Fashion Week was the weekend that they just had a massive outbreak of coronavirus cases in Milan.

“So, they came home and they were telling us how crazy it was. Masks were sold out everywhere, there was kind of just like a feeling of mass panic. Then, I think we woke up the next morning before class and I checked the news and they were like, ‘Oh, there’s a coronavirus case in Florence,’ and we’re like, ‘Shoot, it’s actually becoming a real thing now.”

Loganbill: “Like I said, just in a couple days, the situation became completely different.”

Witter: “There was so much misinformation around it too. My main understanding of it was, ‘Yeah, it’s spreading pretty quickly, but it’s not super fatal.’ Anytime that I would actually try to dive in and research, it was like, ‘Hey, it’s not going to kill you. So honestly, don’t worry about it.’

“I was just confused why there was so much panic going on it if really wasn’t, health-wise, that big of a deal. Now I understand, it’s going to spread to people who are immunocompromised, and people who are older. So, that’s obviously an issue and something we need to care about, and it’s affecting younger people too.

“We didn’t have that information when I was in Italy, so it was kind of just like, ‘OK, my worry is that the government is freaking out, so I might have to leave.’ I wasn’t worried about it being this thing that ends up keeping me home once I was here.”

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I'm Pete Loganbill and I'm the News Editor for the Collegian and host of the Collegian Kultivate podcast! I spent two years at Johnson County Community College, and I am now a senior in Public Relations at K-State. I believe constant communication leads to progress, no matter how difficult a comment may be for me or anyone to hear. Contact me at ploganbill@kstatecollegian.com.