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WASHINGTON — I was supposed to be home in Italy for my spring break. Instead, as my parents are self-quarantining in our house near Milan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, I am stranded in Washington, D.C., self-isolating in college housing more than 4,000 miles away from them.

I want to go home, but I’m afraid to do so.

As a perpetual international student, I am no stranger to homesickness. I moved to the U.S. last June for a master’s in journalism at Northwestern University. This was after spending the five previous years in four different countries for the sake of pursuing what I saw was a better education. But my current state of mind seems unfathomable.

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I long to fly home and see my loved ones as I had originally planned. But that would mean embarking on a 24-hour trip and going through at least three different airports, which now seems incredibly risky, especially given the current shortages of basic supplies to protect myself from the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. It wasn’t until recently that I managed to buy some surgical masks after days of searching, and I am still striking out with hand sanitizer.

Upon my arrival in Italy, I would most likely be quarantined in military barracks before sheltering in place in my own house, which is in one of the most infected areas in the country. It is so dangerous that my 80-year-old grandmother left her home to join my aunt and uncle in another region.

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My parents decided to stay and have not left the house in more than a month. They have been resourceful, coming up with innovative ways to keep themselves busy — new recipes, online courses, strolls in the backyard — but our daily calls suggest that their days have inevitably started to melt into each other. But they have no other option: Leaving the house would mean getting in trouble with the police, in addition to seriously putting their health at risk.

With hospitals in Italy at maximum capacity, I fear that relatives and friends who have been infected could be among those who will be denied treatment. It’s a gut-wrenching feeling that shadows me day and night.

The worry, of course, is mutual: As I worry about my family, my family worries about me stranded in Washington, despite my best efforts to reassure them. My parents like to say, “It’s our job to worry,” and they are surely taking this more seriously than ever. My dad started an email chain titled “Important information regarding Covid-19” so he can send me daily updates about preventive measures. The latest one detailed the importance of owning an oximeter, a small device that can help prevent a respiratory crisis by detecting a drop in the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream.

To give myself and my parents some peace of mind, I have been self-quarantining, like so many others in the United States and around the world. I feel fine, but after being exposed to someone who had Covid-19, I worry I might have it too.

I recoil at the idea of being in a hospital bed, an ocean away from my parents, in the middle of a pandemic. I am also trying to figure out what my health plan covers. Where would I go in case I needed help? And how much would that cost?

Most of my friends in Washington have also been staying at home. In an attempt to resemble the social life we once took for granted, we have created a book club, spent hours playing games online, and talked incessantly via the electronic devices that have now become our only connection with the outside world. We even manage to work out together, though separately, in our respective living rooms. Since I left home at a young age, I had to learn how to be by myself, but Covid-19 has brought a unique level of loneliness.

Not all of my friends are taking this approach to the pandemic. Some are carrying on with their normal lives, filling their days with social gatherings and dismissing the most simple precautions, such as washing their hands often. In some cases it’s a matter of thoughtlessness; in others it’s the flawed perception that such measures won’t make a difference.

While I battle with worries, hopes and a million “what ifs,” I cannot help but think of all the other international students in the U.S. — more than a million of us — who are also juggling loneliness, searches for hand sanitizer, and uncertain futures.

If we can’t go home now, when will we be able to do so? And if we do manage to get home, when will we be able to come back to the U.S.?

Silvia Martelli is a graduate student at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, a White House pool reporter for Bloomberg, and an intern at Vice.

  • Dear Silvia, have faith in God. Even this phase will pass by. Take ur precautions, they r v important. Don’t be scared, stay put with courage. Plan ur days n lead a disciplined life, its a good opportunity. Like ur parents learn to cook simple healthy meals. Take care of ur immunity, take precautions even if u have to go out n there is nothing to worry

  • My Husband’s family lives in northern Italy and I hear him speaking with his mother everyday and listening to the Italian news online. We were to go this summer to spend time with his parents, so they could be their new great baby. But we are sure that mostly will not be an option. And we have the same questions, when will they get to meet their grandchild? When will my husband get to spend time with family and friends? I know he misses they very much. We had been planning this trip for over a year. I saw he is worried about his loved ones and wish I could do or say to ease his mind.

  • Exaggerated…I am in Brescia,I am 79 and I am going out every day….we don’t have plague or Ebola ,but a super flu,,,,Milano is the same,supermarket and farmace open in Washington the same….you call in Skype as long you will like and keep calme…….nothing to worry ….
    Ciao,have a place to day and be patient……Giuliano

  • Praise the Lord my sister, I understand your situation and it is pathetic, please read Daniel 12:1-3 in the Bible. What is happening in a global distress and the only solution is to make sure your name is written in the book of Life and that is where your salvation is. The Lord is faithful . Please visit jesusislordradio.org and get get to understand the present time we are living in, thank you and may God bless you

  • Hi Silvia, please trust God to take care of you, please can you check out this bible verse 1 Peter 5 verse 7, worry won’t solve anything, give all to God in prayer, He cares about you and He see all that is happening around you presently, please why worry when you can pray, trust Him to see you through, trust Him that He will prevent you from catching corona virus, trust Him that your family are all well and ok and very soon you will all have a happy reunion. If you choose to put your trust in Jesus christ the creator of heaven and earth He will never let you down. God bless you.

  • Ciao cara, I am so sorry to read about your situation. I have family living in Northern Italy and I live in Tampa, Florida with my daughter and husband. We are all so upset that we can’t go back to visit during the summer break. My dad passed away last year and my mom is 90 living close to one of my sisters.
    Just think, my nephew Alex, lives 15 minutes away but is not allowed to visit my sister because they ate in a different area. He is the only child, and he finally decided this year to move out and be independent. Holy cow, now he is really alone and the crazy thing, he is so close to his parents but can’t even visit. So, Easter on his own and soon his birthday too. So cara, you are not the only one. Siamo tutti nella stessa maledetta barca. I am happy to read that you are being careful and it sounds like you are very bright person with a fantastic future ahead. So, be strong and have faith that you will soon visit la tua bella Italia. Tutto andra’ bene.

    Renata

  • Hi, Silvia. My niece lives in Bresha, Italy. She helped us to understand the danger in advance. You are young and you will make it through. Stay active and healthy. This way you also help your relatives to be strong and healthy. Thank you for sharing.

  • Hi Silvia… your story sounds much like my cousin, Federico, who came to the states in January for his medical fellowship at UCLA. Our family lives in Biandronno, Varese, Lombardy. Federico was due to go home for a visit this month and is hoping for May/June but still not sure if he will be able to go. Then there is the issue about a return to the states. He, like you, is very concerned for his family who also have been quarantined for the past month. His mother is a teacher and father a physician. Please know there are so many others who are missing their family in Italy and who would love to be home just to be with their loved ones again. I would love to connect you two if you think it might help? My thoughts are with you on this very special
    Easter Day. ❤️

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