‘We will all get through this’
St. Ed grad experiences strength of humanity while studying abroad
As he sat thousands of miles from home, Jake Heidenreich was reassured that everything would work out.
Heidenreich, a St. Edmond graduate and current Loras College student, was in Spain on a study abroad trip when the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, was just starting to spread throughout the country.
Chaos and fear started to engulf the people of Spain as Heidenreich packed up his belongings for the long trip back to Iowa.
“I was in my room on my last night in Santiago and all of a sudden I heard cheering, applause and laughter,” he said. “To my delight, I saw hundreds of people across the street and in my building opening up their windows and applauding and waving to everyone in other apartments. This was done to show gratitude to all of the sanitary workers as well as to show solidarity and boost morale.
“In that moment, I realized that no matter how scary or delicate our world might seem right now, we will never stop fighting or give up hope, and we will all get through this.”
Heidenreich experienced the early stages of the virus, first hearing about it while in Italy as part of his expanded trip. It did force him to return home ahead of his initial May 2 date.
“I heard about the coronavirus outbreak in China, but we didn’t know if it would continue to spread or worsen. During the semester in Spain, we were updated constantly about the status of the virus in the country, and Spain was one of the countries that wasn’t hit hard right away,” he said. “As it continued to spread, my fellow students and I started to worry about the future of our program abroad. When we found out that President Trump had issued the travel ban to the EU, and that the CDC raised the level of alarm to traveling, we knew that it was likely that we had to come home soon. Thankfully, we were blessed with the communication and support of Loras and their help with our return trips. Having to return early was bittersweet because we had to end our trip early, but we knew that it was the right thing to come back for our safety. Even more, I was blessed with three wonderful, life-changing months in Europe, so having to come back wasn’t completely sad.”
And just like others who have traveled and returned, Heidenreich is taking all of the precautions, isolating himself for two weeks before completing his work through the university in Spain via online courses.
Before the hectic conclusion, the trip was everything and more he was expecting.
Heidenreich elected to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country to receive credits towards his Spanish degree. Along with the time in Spain, he had a three-week “J-Term” course that took him to Sicily, Rome and Vatican City.
“I cannot begin to describe how grateful and blessed I am to have had this experience because I know that this is an opportunity that many people are not able to have, so for these past three months, I will be forever grateful,” he said. “One of the reasons why I am so blessed is because I have grown so much personally. I have grown so much in my Spanish-speaking skills because I was immersed in an environment where the language was everywhere. This will help me as I finish up my Spanish program and plan to use the language with my future profession.
“I think one major thing that I have learned from this experience is to never take for granted this beautiful gift of life. I just realized that life is so precious, but also short. So from this experience I learned that I want to live the rest of my life never forgetting how beautiful life is and to treasure every day I have on this Earth with my family and friends.”
Some of the more memorable moments included receiving a special message from Pope Francis and taking in the sights and sounds of the countries he visited.
“I will never ever forget when we were at the plaza of Saint Peter’s Basilica, standing amongst thousands of people listening to a papal address from Pope Francis, and all of a sudden, Pope Francis gave a shout-out and said hello to the students of Loras College,” he said. “I was absolutely shocked and could not believe what had just happened.
“Another memorable moment I had was seeing the Cathedral of Saint James the Apostle in Santiago because this is the end of ‘The Camino,’ an ancient pilgrimage that has been popular in Europe for many centuries. Being able to sit and be in that sacred place, witnessing people who had walked for days, weeks, or even months be so overjoyed and glad that they had made it was such a blessing. Being able to be where thousands of people have journeyed to throughout the last 10 centuries was extraordinary and truly beautiful.”