When the coronavirus first began its worldwide spread, I was forced to leave Morocco. I struggled to cope with my emotions, as the world changed around me and my study abroad program came to an end.
Colorado – When the coronavirus first began its worldwide spread, I was forced to leave Morocco. I struggled to cope with my emotions, as the world changed around me and my study abroad program came to an end.
Being in a foreign country in the midst of a worldwide crisis is a frightening experience. Every day is overshadowed by anxiety and stress. Each new development plays into a growing uncertainty. As the state of affairs worsens, so does the need to take action. Like a dark expanding cloud, the unknown begins to envelop all aspects of daily life.
This feeling of the unknown colored my remaining days in Morocco. It drastically changed the course of my trip, and my experience studying abroad. It was this uncertainty which eventually led to me leaving the country.
I was studying journalism in Rabat, Morocco when the coronavirus first began its worldwide spread. In the very beginning, the virus seemed far away. In my mind, it was out of reach, something that would never directly affect me.
But as things progressed, I began to realize that I was in a dire situation: If I didn’t leave the country soon, I could be stuck in Morocco.
Late one night this realization hit me especially hard. Feelings of fear and uncertainty filled my mind. I tossed and turned in bed, the thoughts multiplying and worsening. It wasn’t COVID-19 itself that scared me, but rather the idea of being trapped in Morocco.
The end of my semester abroad
The next day I went to my classes in the medina (old city) of Rabat. Instead of class, the professor had decided to have a discussion.
The immediate turn of events meant a possible cancellation of the study abroad program.
Changing circumstances also created increasing anxiety and stress among the students. It was a chance for us to voice how we felt, and to help each other out. It was an opportunity for us to share our pains and our frustrations.
We sat in a circle, a pervasive feeling of fear filling the room.
A female student cried in distress as she recalled her story. Words poured out of her mouth in a hushed tone. She finished talking, her voice softening, tears running down her cheeks. Another student’s brow furrowed as he spoke. He struggled to get the words out, pain overtaking his face. A female student gently patted him on the back, and he stared at the floor.
After the discussion, I went out in the commons area. I was emotionally exhausted, unsure of what would happen next. I wanted to go home, to be in the safety of my family and friends. But at the same time I felt sadness. I didn’t want to leave Morocco.
There was so much more I wanted to explore and experience. It was as if Morocco was holding on to a piece of me. The country was desperately asking for me not to leave. It was hard, but I knew what I had to do.
Leaving Morocco during the coronavirus crisis
That night I talked to my parents about the rapidly changing situation. My study abroad program had decided not to shut down, in that the coronavirus had yet to reach Morocco. But it was only a matter of time until it hit the country.
Later that night I received a phone call from my parents. They told me to pack my things immediately. I was to leave Morocco as soon as possible. The program was still going, but they had decided to pull me out.
A feeling of relief washed over me. In just a few days, I would be safe in the company of friends and family.
As my host mom drove me to the airport, I silently observed the surrounding city. There was so much more I wanted to experience. But at the same time, I knew my departure was for the best.
As we pulled up to the airport, I noticed that it was oddly deserted and quiet. A few cars sat parked in the front, and there was no one outside. A security guard patrolled the entrance, wearing a mask and rubber gloves.
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I waved goodbye to my host mom, tying on a face mask. Inside the airport, lengthy lines of people stood in front of the baggage check-in area. A large crowd was quickly becoming impatient and irritated. I observed the angry crowd from the back of the room. Several Moroccan men yelled at an attendant, their voices rising above the din. I applied hand sanitizer for the third time that day, my hands shaking nervously.
On the first flight back home, paranoia took over. My hot breath whistled in my flu mask, as I observed a man sitting in front of me. Beads of sweat inched down the side of his face. My imagination took me captive, and I slept little.
The thought of bringing the coronavirus back to my parents terrified me. As a result, I took numerous precautions to make sure I was safe. In the airports I traveled through, I thoroughly observed my surroundings. Every time I touched a surface I washed my hands, and I frequently used hand sanitizer. I stayed away from people as much as possible. But despite all this, I still feared deep down that I might get the coronavirus.
A cathartic homecoming
When I landed at Denver International Airport, a feeling of relief washed over me.
I was finally back in Colorado and would be safe in my small hometown soon. I had made it back in the nick of time. On the day I arrived in Denver, March 15, Morocco shut down its borders.
The remaining journalism students were trapped there. There was no telling how long they would be in the country. My thoughts went to them, as I reminisced about the times we had spent together. I shook my head in disbelief, marveling at my narrow escape.
As my mom drove me home from the airport, I quietly ruminated. I had left behind a part of my soul in Morocco. This part still tugged at me. It begged for me to return. But I knew I had to move on.
Although I was sad to leave Rabat, I also began to feel at peace. I felt grateful to be home and to be in the company of my family. But most of all, I felt grateful to have had such a life-changing cultural experience.