Genevieve Lambert didn’t expect to be home in Frederick this month. She didn’t even expect to be in the United States.
She expected to be in a Scotland flat, attending classes at the University of Glasgow, and occasionally taking weekend trips around Europe.
She expected that to be her life for the next 10 months.
And then the new coronavirus came.
“I felt like I was just being ripped up from my life that I had there ... and it didn’t even really hit me until I was on the plane because it was so quick and sudden,” Lambert said.
On March 6, Towson University recalled all students, faculty and staff who were studying or working abroad and asked that they self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the United States.
Lambert had been studying history in Scotland since September as part of a yearlong abroad program when, in the span of one week, her entire life changed.
A junior at Towson University, Lambert said she chose to go away for a full academic year because she wanted to put down roots.
“I really wanted to get to know one place ... and really feel like I lived there and I did feel like that,” she said. “I felt like it was my home.”
Now her new home is the basement of her house, away from the rest of her family, while she self-quarantines for two weeks.
Lambert arrived back in the United States on March 14, a day after the U.S. began banning flights from Europe. And she barely made it.
A few days before the coronavirus hit a triggering peak in Italy, Lambert traveled there to visit some friends. At the time, the northern part of the country was red-zoned, but fears were limited.
She traveled to Rome, did some sightseeing and hung out with friends — a normal life for a person studying abroad. But soon, things hit a new level in Italy and it was announced that the whole country would go into lockdown.
Lambert received an email from her university that she should begin making plans to return to the U.S. She ended up getting one of the last flights out of Rome before everything shut down. Back in Glasgow, Lambert was given 48 hours to leave.
“My whole living situation, all my stuff, nothing was ready to be packed,” Lambert said.
She did what she could, said goodbye to friends and boarded a plane to Dulles International Airport. Upon arrival, she waited in a line at U.S. Customs and Border Protection for almost three hours before being allowed to leave without any screening.
Now at home, Lambert is finishing classes online for the remainder of the semester while she self-isolates.
“The only hard thing is my family is upstairs and I have to stay in the basement,” Lambert said.
Alex Leaman, a junior at Salisbury University who was studying abroad for a semester in Spain, went through a similar situation.
He caught a flight out of London and was able to fly back to Washington, D.C., because he is a U.S. citizen.
“They said all flights are being banned from Europe, but there were still a handful coming out of the U.K. So that’s why I flew from Spain into the U.K., so I could guarantee a flight, but they were still very limited,” he said.
Upon arrival, he and other passengers were taken to a terminal where they were screened by medical staff.
He was asked questions by doctors in protective gear but said they didn’t take his temperature or do any other procedures.
He is now self-isolating with his family in Middletown.
“None of us are leaving the house, and if we need something, someone will just come and drop it off to us,” Leaman said.
Kylie Norwood, a junior at Moravian College in Pennsylvania who was studying abroad in the Czech Republic, said that not only was it difficult to uproot and leave so quickly, but there was the unexpected added expense of a flight home.
“I had saved up a lot of money for this experience and then that was just like an extra $1,000 that I didn’t expect to have to pay,” Norwood said.
Norwood is self-isolating at her home in Thurmont.
Expenses and lost money are on all three students’ minds as they are no longer living in apartments they rented out or going on trips they planned.
“I probably won’t get any of the money back, and I’ve kind of accepted that already,” Norwood said. “I’m still trying by submitting refund requests and things like that, but I’m pretty much expecting to not get any of that money back.”
Norwood, Leaman and Lambert had all chosen to find their own housing through local landlords for their time abroad, which is making it even more difficult to get refunds for their housing since it is not linked to their universities.
Lambert got lucky in that Towson paid for her flight home, but for Norwood and Leaman, that added expense is still up in the air.
More than anything, though, all three students are upset that an opportunity of a lifetime was cut short.
“It was definitely devastating. It happened so quickly that I didn’t have a lot of time to actually process what was happening,” Norwood said. “But it was also hard, because you can’t really blame anybody for it. It’s not either of my universities’ fault. It’s just how things happened, and nobody could control it.”
She said she’s trying to look at the bright side.
“I just am trying to be thankful for the time that I had and also thankful that I’m home safe with my family,” Norwood said.
After quarantine ends, Leaman said he might try to return to Salisbury and find work while finishing out the semester.
Lambert plans to stay at home until she returns for her final year at Towson in August.
Norwood agreed and said she might try to find work locally. At the moment, however, she is taking it day by day.
“I haven’t really figured out what I’m going to do with myself yet,” she said with a laugh. “Of course I still have some schoolwork that I still have to do, but I don’t think I will be as busy as I’m used to. ... I’m just trying to stay positive.”