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Disrupted from a distance: Student’s study at Spanish university continues from home due to virus

Woman standing in front of entrance

Illinois State sophomore Anna Tulley was studying abroad in Granada, Spain, before having to return home due to coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns.

Nestled around a city center outside a post office in Granada, Spain, with other U.S. students studying abroad, Illinois State sophomore Anna Tulley felt a buzz on her phone. She looked down to find a notification from the University. Advice to flatten the curve of the coronavirus (COVID-19) was shared and included the recommendation that students studying abroad return to the United States.

Anna received the message on Thursday, March 12. By Sunday, the history and anthropology major who was in Granada to fulfill her Spanish minor was back in Illinois to quarantine. The journey home had both smooth and anxious moments.

“As soon as we got that message, we called our parents and tried to figure out what to do,” said Anna, a 2018 U-High grad.

From there, the Tulley family put as concrete a plan into place as possible. Anna figured out the logistics with the University of Granada. Her mother, Janet Tulley ’93, M.S. ’08, began searching for flights.

“By the time I was getting online, everything had already been booked,” said Janet, who is assistant dean at the Wonsook Kim College of Fine Arts. “As one of my friends said on social media, I felt like I was living a story or watching some kind of strange soap opera.”

Eight hours later and with the help of an agent from Direct Travel, Janet had a flight for her daughter booked straight from Madrid to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Anna had a five-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Granada to Madrid on Saturday the 14th, the same day Spain announced a nationwide lockdown. She had a hotel a couple of miles from the airport, but feared she wouldn’t be able to get there if taxi and Uber services shut down. From her arrival at the airport to landing at O’Hare, she was pleasantly surprised that there were no complications.

“The only time I had kind of a freak-out moment was when I was on the bus to Madrid,” said Anna, who is no stranger to international travel after studying in Italy last summer. The rest of her journey from Madrid evolved with a sense of community amid the chaos.

People were on guard and practicing social distancing as best they could, with an understanding that everybody was trying to reach their destination safely. While it didn’t erase the disappointment of having to cut short a study abroad experience, the togetherness comforted Anna.

“It was sad to see, but it was kind of nice to know that there were people in my exact same situation,” she said. “We could get through it together.”

The Tulleys left for the airport when Anna touched down to account for potential delays. She connected with her parents after having her temperature taken in customs by Centers for Disease Control employees. Anna opted for the back of the vehicle to maintain distance on the road back to the family’s home in Normal. Once there, she quarantined in her bedroom for two weeks.

It was bittersweet, Janet said, noting she couldn’t give Anna a hug. Family members placed her meals outside the bedroom door. She made a loud announcement whenever leaving her room so that others opened doors for her and avoided contact.

“I didn’t realize how much I would miss making my own sandwiches,” Anna said with a laugh.

Now she’s able to quarantine with the rest of her family. She continues to take online classes from the University of Granada, but other study plans have been interrupted as well. She was to participate in an archaeological dig in Italy after her time in Granada ended, and is hopeful that experience can happen next summer.

While certainly not the semester Anna was anticipating, the experience has not lessened her passion for traveling and experiencing other cultures. It’s an opportunity she appreciates and will continue to seize as a Redbird.