Virus interrupts Italian interlude

WC grad quickly returns home

-Submitted photo
Webster City graduate Cinestie Olson, second from left in the front row, and her study abroad group enjoy a little free time while in Italy during Fano!, for Carnevale which is a holiday in Italian culture.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series of Webster City graduate Cinestie Olson’s study-abroad trip to Italy.



WEBSTER CITY — When Cinestie Olson received the news that her four-month international journey was going to be cut short, she was shocked, devastated and heartbroken.

All the planning and dreaming of being immersed in a new culture was gone.

-Submitted photo
This is a picture of Urbino, Italy, where Cinestie Olson stayed on her study abroad trip with Iowa State University.

Olson, a 2018 Webster City graduate, was on a study-abroad trek through Iowa State University. The coronavirus pandemic quickly sent Italy into level 3 warning, though, forcing the students to immediately return to the United States.

Olson received the email at 2 a.m. on Feb. 29.

“At first I heard about it on Snapchat with my friends. They asked me if I looked at my email, then I saw it,” Olson said. “I thought it was a joke, but it said we needed to come home right away.

“The day before we got an email from Iowa State saying they were monitoring everything and then it changed overnight. It said we needed to be back by March 6. We had to arrange our flights and get a receipt, and we would be reimbursed.”

It was a shock to the Iowa State sophomore, as she still had three months of cities and countries to visit on her trip.

-Submitted photo
This is a view in Italy, where Webster City graduate Cinestie Olson traveled for a study abroad trip with Iowa State University.

“I cried and called my mom (Shylo) instantly,” Olson said. “I laid in bed and called my Aunt Tatum, and told my (family) we were being sent home. After that, our advisor met with us in a cafe and we talked about it.

“We were unsure of what was going to happen. There were no answers — we just knew we had to come back. It was very unexpected.”

COVID-19 was in parts of Italy, but hadn’t had much of an effect on Urbino yet, the community where Olson was staying.

“The day before, nobody was wearing masks. We were all doing the same thing,” Olson said. “There were a lot of cases up north and coming down. We were taking precautions and washing our hands. We knew what to do.

“We knew it was coming, but didn’t know it would be this serious.”

-Submitted photo
Webster City graduate Cinestie Olson and her study abroad group enjoy a break in Italy overlooking the city of Fortezza, Italy.

It took Olson about six hours to rearrange her flight, but she was able to return to the States and Iowa on March 4. Then the slow process of the 15-day self quarantine was then put into effect.

Olson and the group had to send their temperatures back to ISU on a daily basis.

“We were in quarantine from the moment we came home until March 18,” Olson said. “Iowa State sent a survey for all of the study abroad students. We had to give our temperatures and report if we had a runny nose or fever.

“I am so glad that none of us got the virus.”

Olson didn’t know what to expect from the quarantine. It started out fun, but became boring as the days moved forward.

“At first, I thought it would be fun to watch TV and have some relaxation time,” Olson said. “I wanted to go exercise and do other things, but I couldn’t.”

While in isolation, Olson got the chance to reflect on her adventure and everything that happened.

“I am grateful that we were sent back (in retrospect),” Olson said. “But there are times now when I think, ‘I should be in Italy right now doing this…'”

After raising funds to make the trip, Olson is hoping to get some of her money back so she can start planning another journey overseas once everything returns to normal.

“I’m hoping we get a refund, but we still haven’t received an answer for that,” Olson said. “I get it, but it would be great to have (some of the money) back.

“Obviously money can’t bring back my time in Italy or make memories, but it would be a nice thing to have.”

With the entire country practicing some form of social distancing, the steps taken to avoid spread of the virus have had an affect on everyone.

“When we were coming back, they were canceling the NBA and concerts. It was a good thing to take action,” Olson said. “I’m glad the United States is taking more steps now.”

Olson has been reminiscing about her time in Italy lately and the possibility of traveling the world again.

“I love to travel,” Olson said. “It was such an amazing experience. I think everyone should try it.

“The culture, the new language — I loved every minute of it.”


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