Life Post-Arezzo: Social-Distancing but Virtual Connecting

The time between 12 am, Saturday 29 and 12 am, Sunday, March 1st definitely made me realize so much can change within 24 hours. On the Friday of that week, we just had a meeting about the current COVID-19 situation in Italy and decided to shift the course schedule one week early, since we might have trouble traveling to other European countries in Spring Break. I felt relieved. One week ago from that time, I happened to be in Milan visiting my friend when cases in Lombardy region were found. So that entire week, my program mates and I had been worried about the suspension of this beautiful program and being sent back home.  

It still happened. On Friday late night, US CDC raised the alarm level to number three, and the university decided to have us purchase the flight tickets back to the US right away. So within one hour, we bought the ticket; the next morning, pack; then we had the last Italian lunch and gelato with everyone; in my last hour in Arezzo, I bought some gifts from the antique fair for my friends and family. Then at around 4 pm, Leticia, Estelle, and I stepped onto the train to Rome. Abby and Eddie left the morning after.  

Losing our upcoming time in Arezzo and being forced to say goodbye to Italy, we were definitely upset, on top of the 14-day self-quarantine coming right after. However, our professors and program director managed to work out some ways of virtual learning one week after and enlightened our home-life. Yes, we started it earlier than most American colleges. Our Italian Professor Silvia managed to use the conversation window and the screen-sharing on Zoom as the blackboard, Professor Baroni asked the on-campus librarians to scan the textbook pages and post it online, Professor Siniscalco still set up several virtual meetings with the new students from University of Siena (UNISI)…  

As part of the cultural education, our program director Donna sent us several videos and newspaper articles describing how Italians systematically and individually cope with COVID-19, and we discussed the comparison to the situation in the US and our social well-beings via Zoom on a weekly basis too. 

More excitingly for Estelle and me, our resourceful Donna, together with the professor of Chinese in University of Siena, Gianluigi Negro, set up tandem partners for us! For the next few weeks, Estelle and I will have some new friends to practice Italian every week, and they will in turn learn Chinese from us. What can be better than learning languages from native speakers while killing the time of staying at home? 

Outside of classes, we are spontaneously reminiscing our time in Italy, through cooking, or not-cooking. Estelle and Leticia carried on the Wednesday Food and Movie Night tradition and cooked for Leticia’s family. Abby asked for the recipe of Zuppa di Farro from Donna, so she will cook it for her mom. I have been making the salad with the Italian dressing (salt, pepper, olive oil, fresh lemon juice) at least 3 times week since I got back and am still not tired of it. Eddie is considering writing an article to record our specific experiences with Italy and COVID-19.  

I found it very comforting that I am still able to learn from and gain social energies through interacting with the whole Arezzo 2020 crew, even if the pandemic set us apart. As well-put by Donna in one email to me, we aren’t going to let this distance get the best of us! 

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