An American Student Riding Out COVID-19 Abroad

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NORTH CANTON, Ohio– On March 12, President Donald Trump announced the suspension of travel from the U.S. to Europe. The announcement caused Americans abroad to rush home, but some citizens decided to stay overseas. Hillsdale College student Madi Vandegrift is one of those Americans who chose to stay. 

When Vandegrift left the United States for Germany in late February, she, like many Americans, was not too concerned about contracting COVID-19. 

“I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” she said. “Not that it shouldn’t be taken seriously, but it would not affect me or my experience over there.” 

Hillsdale College student Madi Vandegrift

But, that would change in a few weeks with cases of COVID-19 rising around the globe. But, for Vandegrift, the announcement of the travel ban was what caused her to panic. 

“I could not focus that entire day,” she said. “I was like, well, okay, what am I supposed to do.” 

Vandegrift, an accounting major, said her immediate thought was to look at numbers. So, she compared the number of cases in Saarbrücken, Germany, where she is studying, and Ohio. On March 12, the number of cases in Ohio and the number of cases in Saarbrücken were similar. So, Vandegrift decided to stay rather than risk catching the virus on a plane. 

“It wouldn’t be like I would be leaving a really terrible area and going to a safer place,” she said. 

Still, the decision to stay was hard for Vandegrift, but she said she learned from the experience. 

“It was very tough because it was a decision I had to make on my own, and I didn’t have anyone telling me,” Vandegrift said. “But, it was a big learning curve for me to really see how I could overcome this challenge.” 

In the weeks since the travel-ban announcement, the number of COVID-19 cases has grown in Germany, and the country has started to take precautions. Saarland, the state where Saarbrücken is located, is small, Vandegrift said, but has still taken the same precautions as the rest of the world. All non-essential businesses are closed, and a shelter-in-place order went into effect last Friday. Borders have also closed, Vandegrift said. 

Saarbrücken, Germany where Vandegrift is living





While public transportation is still running, Vandegrift said changes have been made to keep drivers safe. She said drivers now have a curtain separating them from the rest of the bus, and riders enter in through the back. She also said tickets are now based on an honor system to help limit contact. 

Vandegrift said she is now taking the pandemic seriously and is taking necessary precautions. But, she said she’s been disappointed with her fellow college students’ actions back home in the U.S. who, she feels, may not understand the current health crisis. 

“It’s been really disheartening to see a lot of my friends or other people I know back home to take this time to go on vacations or anything like that and not take it as seriously,” Vandegrift said. 

Vandegrift and her roommates

Vandegrift said she is now waiting for her German university to begin its semester, and then, she will decide whether to return home. Until then, Vandegrift said she has been taking online classes with Hillsdale and watching Netflix. But, she also said that she has learned a lot about other cultures through her roommates, who are Italian. Together, they have been cooking and sharing details about their home lives. Vandegrift said this has been the bright spot during these uncertain times. 

“This is really bringing us closer together even though there may be a language barrier or a language gap,” she said. “I think it’s really beautiful to see how humanity comes together in times of crisis.” 

All Photos Courtesy of Madi Vandegrift