It was 2 a.m. on March 12. President Trump had just issued a travel ban for Europe.
“At the time, my friends and I were at the club, so it was the craziest experience of my life,” Economics and finance senior Maya Vikstrom said. “The news spread throughout the club so fast. Within five minutes, every single American was outside booking flights.”
Vikstrom is among the 1,523 students in her program who were abroad in the Spring and sent home early due to COVID-19. Many Cal Poly students studied abroad through programs such as CEA, Cultural Experiences Abroad, and USAC, University Studies Abroad Consortium.
CEA Study Abroad is a popular program among Cal Poly students which offers a network of study centers in eight different countries throughout Europe and Latin America. One of the main reasons students choose to study with CEA is because of the program’s flexibility, according to CEA Regional Director Matt Janus. They work with partner universities to ensure credits are transferred over and classes are approved. Students also have the option to take classes in English as well as GE classes.
The travel restrictions were a challenge for CEA during Spring semester when thousands of students were sent home, Janus said.
“We had to recall all of our Spring semester students and ensure that they could still continue their academics from home,” Janus said.
CEA created a virtual study program so that students could complete their classes online and still earn their credits.
Vikstrom chose to study abroad through a hybrid program with CEA in Barcelona, Spain and UAB, the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. She began the program at the beginning of September and left on March 12. She was supposed to study in Spain for a whole academic year, but her experience was cut short due to COVID-19.
The night that she found out Trump was restricting travel to the United States from Europe, she booked a flight for 9 a.m. the next morning.
“Luckily I was able to get a flight but it was pretty expensive compared to what a normal flight would cost,” Vikstrom said.
When Vikstrom flew home, the mask regulations were not enforced yet so she did not have to wear one on the plane. “Out of my friends that were at the club our last night in Spain, five out of the seven of us tested positive for COVID-19 when we got home,” Vikstrom said.
Vikstrom explained that her friends who live on the East Coast were able to get their tests right away, while she wasn’t able to get tested at the time in California. However, she assumed she had COVID-19 because they all had the same symptoms.
“Coronavirus spread through my program like crazy,” Vikstrom said. “I found out a few weeks later that so many people had it that last week in Spain.”
Overall, Vikstrom is satisfied with her study abroad experience.
“I lucked out compared to the other Spring semester students just because I was there for the year,” Vikstrom said. “However, it would’ve been nice to have a proper goodbye and not be sent home so unexpectedly.”
Interdisciplinary studies senior Billie Hooven had a much shorter trip abroad than Vikstrom. Hooven also studied abroad through CEA in Barcelona, Spain. She was there from January until mid-March.
“I was reimbursed about $250 for the whole second half of the trip that I missed, so basically nothing,” Hooven said.
The total cost of the program was $17,595, so Hooven was not reimbursed very much considering she missed the last two months of her program.
The program allowed the students to stay in housing for about a week before they were sent home, according to Hooven. Classes were moved to an online format during this time.
Hooven said she had trouble trying to find a direct flight back home.
“It was all a super last minute scramble,” Hooven said. “From Barcelona, I had to fly to London and then back to San Francisco. The lines in the airport were horrible.”
Once she got home, she had to quarantine for two weeks and did not leave the house at all. Hooven later found that many of her classmates from Barcelona tested positive for COVID-19; however, she did not.
One of Hooven’s favorite parts of the trip was going to Madrid with her program. However, she was upset that she wasn’t able to travel to other places in Europe.
“I wish I could’ve gone to Amsterdam, which is what I was supposed to do the weekend we got sent home,” Hooven said.
Environmental management and protection senior Scott Soderquist studied abroad through USAC in London, England. His program was a year-long program that started in September but was cut short three months.
He was reimbursed for the flights on the way back as well as some of the housing and tuition costs. According to Soderquist, it was not difficult to get a flight out of England.
“I actually flew standby and got on a flight that was maybe half full,” Soderquist said. “People didn’t have to wear masks on the flight.”
Soderquist said the crazy part of his trip was arriving in the United States.
“I stepped off the plane from Dublin and there were people that were in full hazmat suits,” Soderquist said. “They asked us if we had experienced any symptoms and took our temperature with the [temperature-reading] gun on the forehead.”
As recommended, Soderquist quarantined for the next two weeks with his parents. Luckily, he did not hear of anyone in his program catching COVID-19.
“Another thing that stood out to me was trying to get around in London and different parts of Europe while trying to stay socially distanced,” Soderquist said. “A lot of public transportation didn’t have any safety measures in place, so it was important to make your own rules.”
All in all, Soderquist said he is happy with all of his experiences abroad.
“I got in so many different things while I was there, but one thing I missed out on was going to Scandinavia,” Soderquist said. “Even though I didn’t get the chance to go there, I am so grateful for all of my time abroad.”