Blaine Whitford, a Westminster College student, was on a study abroad trip in Morocco when the coronavirus pandemic began to shut down the world. His classes were moved online for the rest of the semester and students were sent home — except he couldn’t return to the U.S. after international travel was banned in the country March 12.
At first, Whitford, a junior history major, was allowed to remain on campus for the time being. As cases began to rise in Morocco, Whitford said buildings in the country started closing and campus amenities became limited.
“Mosques are closed, shops are closed, cafes are closed, everything,” Whitford said.
At this point, Whitford was checking the news a few times a day to see if the U.S. was doing anything to repatriate their citizens.
“Every day I would get up and I would check the news, like three times a day just adding to my stress level each time,” Whitford said. “Spain organizes repatriation for nationals, France is working on repatriating nationals and I kept looking for, you know, an example of Americans being repatriated. Every day I would check.”
According to Whitford, the travelers stuck in Morocco were discussed in a press conference March 19 where it was decided there would be emergency flights out of the country for travelers March 20 and 21. An email was sent to him around midnight on March 20 when his mom called to tell him he needed to get out of Morocco while he could.
Whitford said he had panic attacks while he was traveling home and suggests to students in a similar situation to focus on something that keeps them sane and distracted.
Now that he is back, Whitford is self-quarantining for the required 14 days and said he feels more comfortable knowing he is with his family.
“I definitely feel safer,” Whitford said. “Actually, I don’t know where safe is or what safe is anymore. The meaning of that word has been eroded, but I definitely feel more comfortable.”
For students who are also waiting to go home or are feeling isolated due to the outbreak, Whitford said it is important to remember not to socially isolate completely.
“Every day, I’m like, ‘Okay, don’t check the news so much,’ [or] ‘Okay, maybe read a book, maybe write something,’” he said. “It’s difficult because you don’t realize how much you really need physical and social interaction with people until you can’t do it for at least two weeks.”