From Abroad to Not in 48 Hours

Claire Jeantheau '21, Abroad Columnist

On my last Wednesday in Denmark, updates collapsed into each other domino-like. The Danish prime minister announced on live television that the country’s schools would shut down for two weeks. That included my folkhøjskole—a traditional Danish gap-year school where I’d been boarding with fourteen other Americans—and my common room erupted. Then came the rumor that Denmark had hit a level three warning on the CDC’s travel advisory. Then the final decision from the DIS program, emailed at midnight: by the following week, we all had to be home.

I was saddened, but mostly relieved. I’d miss my philosophy classes and the upcoming spring of biking weather, but things were getting worse; the number of coronavirus cases in Denmark had mushroomed to over 500. I got ready for bed—I would call the airline the next day about tickets. Only my friends at home kept messaging me: “Claire are you OK?” “Claire, are you going to be able to leave the country?”

That’s how I found out that the United States government was placing a month-long ban on travel from Europe, starting Friday at midnight. In the morning I’d learn that American nationals were supposed to be excluded. But that Wednesday-now-Thursday, I didn’t know that. Nobody did.

Never had I thought my last nights in Denmark would look like this: my floormates racing into the night with packed bags to catch planes booked hours before. Waiting as number 1,500 in an airline’s queue before resigning. Grabbing one of the last seats on an Air France flight with a ticket price that made me want to throw up. (DIS generously reimbursed some costs for newly purchased tickets.) Calling a cab to the airport, because the trains could no longer be trusted to arrive on time. 

Strangest of all–arriving at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. Friday and, apart from the 100-person deep Customs line, finding little acknowledgment of the pandemic we’d all left for. No temperature checks. No questions about my health. 

Based on conditions before I left, a travel restriction seems to have been the safe option–but could airports in the United States have been better prepared? Could those abroad have been given more clarification–or could the decision have been made earlier to begin with? What’s done is done, but I wonder what those final forty-eight hours would have looked like if they hadn’t begun in a midnight panic.

From Abroad to Not 

in 48 Hours