The Daily Gamecock

'You need to feel at home within yourself': Students studying abroad in Italy experience strict COVID-19 restrictions

<p>A canal in Florence, Italy, that is faced by buildings on each side and has a bridge to let pedestrians cross the canal.&nbsp;</p>
A canal in Florence, Italy, that is faced by buildings on each side and has a bridge to let pedestrians cross the canal. 

The pandemic had a restrictive effect on travel, but now USC students are back abroad in Italy. Students take on this new culture while experiencing Italy as it is while restricted by COVID-19 regulations.

Mary Grace Cannon is a third-year advertising student studying in Florence at Florence University of the Arts. Cannon said she chose to go to Florence because of its beauty and the fact speaking Italian is not a required skill, as many locals know English.

The difference in how the U.S. deals with COVID-19 versus how Italy deals with it has been an adjustment for many students, Cannon said. By talking with locals, Cannon learned that being previously infected with COVID-19 is not as universal an experience among citizens abroad compared to in the United States.

USC students are not experiencing Italy like past tourists.

“We haven't even gone inside of museums or anything," Molly Jones, a third-year public health student studying in Florence, said. "We've never, like, sat down at a restaurant. You have to take everything to go,”

<p>Ashley Rojas, a third-year economics student who is studying abroad in Turin, Italy.</p>
Ashley Rojas, a third-year economics student who is studying abroad in Turin, Italy.

Being one of the first countries struck by COVID-19, Italy took a strict approach to stopping its spread. Different-colored zones dictate the increasing strictness of COVID-19 regulations, with orange and red being the most strict. Each Friday, the Italian authorities reevaluate case numbers and compare those numbers to the number of people in the region, Cannon said.

When the students first arrived in Florence, it was in the orange zone, which has the second-most strict rules. Now, Florence is in the red zone. 

“No loitering whatsoever. You can’t go and sit down anywhere,” Cannon said.

People are only supposed to leave their homes for school, medical reasons or groceries. Violators risk being punished by police for breaking these rules, something USC students hadn't experienced in Columbia.

“It's definitely been difficult because it's something that can change every week, every day. You don't really know what's going to happen,” Ashley Rojas, a third-year economics student studying in Turin, said. “I've had to learn to be very flexible and not get so frustrated with the situation because it's completely out of my hands.”

This semester abroad is also shortened because of pandemic-related laws in Europe. Instead of going abroad in January like students before the pandemic, this semester’s students left for Italy in February. The rule in the E.U. is that students and tourists need a visa to stay for more than three months, Cannon said. 

“Having all the things that I want to do right in sight and not being able to do them” is what makes being abroad during the pandemic difficult for Cannon, she said. Still, she said she does not regret her decision to study abroad.

“All of us are just really grateful to be here and to even have this opportunity to go abroad during a pandemic,” Jones said.

One perk of the students’ situation is that there are hardly any tourists.

“We get to see, like, one of the top cities for tourists in the world, without any tourists,” Cannon said.

Another special part of studying in another country is the opportunity to become culturally immersed into your surroundings. Rojas said she is grateful for having to stay in Turin and not travel anywhere because she can fully immerse herself in the city.

Jones said her favorite part of studying abroad is being absorbed into Italian culture and meeting local Italians who share their experiences of living in Florence.

Cannon is taking a food and wine pairing course, where she learns which wines complement different foods, she said.

“I just feel so much more dependent on myself, like — because to feel at home anywhere, you need to feel at home within yourself,” Cannon said.

Jones said she wants to bring the slow-paced environment of Italy back with her to hustle-bustle America.

“They really are taking in every moment,” she said.