Alivia Allers ’21 has a passion for world travel, but she found the perfect destination for her college aspirations right in her hometown of Syracuse, New York. In 2017, she spent her first semester as a Syracuse University student in Madrid, Spain, taking part in Syracuse Abroad’s Discovery program for select first-year students. This year, as a junior studying international relations in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences , Allers was abroad in London. In early March, she and some friends traveled from London to southern Spain, and on a lark, they took a short flight to Africa to explore Marrakesh, Morocco. Simultaneously, the novel coronavirus was spreading into Europe, quickly becoming a global threat.
“At first, we didn’t really understand the seriousness of the threat the pandemic presented,” Allers says. “As students in the London program, we were hearing more news about COVID-19 from Syracuse University than we were from the U.K. government.”
Concern and Relief
Allers’s parents were happy that their daughter had embraced the opportunity to visit Morocco, but grew concerned when her scheduled flight back to London from Spain was cancelled. They thought she’d have to stay in Marrakesh. “Fortunately, she and her friends went straight to the airport and managed to get a direct flight from Marrakesh to London, just in time,” says her father, Jason Allers. “The next day Morocco placed a freeze on all flights into and out of the country.”
Thanks to Alert Traveler, the University’s travel safety app, staff at Syracuse London knew that Alivia had been in Marrakesh. They called her when Morocco’s borders closed to ensure she had made it back, and were quickly reassured. London professor Becca Farnum, who served on the London Center’s repatriation team, praises Allers for her quick response and communication. “Alivia was incredibly responsible about her mid-semester break travels and her U.S. flight plan, making our job a lot easier. We’re really appreciative of our students’ patience and cooperation during what turned out to be a far more intense adventure than any of us anticipated!”
As Syracuse Abroad programs began suspending operations and people began to flee areas affected by the virus, Allers managed to get a flight from London to JFK. Two days later she arrived home in Syracuse to a very relieved family. “Although we were worried, we had every faith that Alivia would get back safely,” Jason Allers says. “She is a savvy traveler, and she’s flown more places in the last five years than I have in 50!”
Allers is certain the University made the right decision when it suspended its programs abroad, ended on-campus classes and transitioned to online course delivery. “A lot of us were traveling in Europe, and the students studying abroad who might be coming back to campus possibly carrying the virus were definitely a threat,” she says.
Making the Transition
Following the guidance of the U.K. government and Syracuse London staff, Allers stopped traveling and isolated herself in her London flat before returning to her family home in Syracuse, where she will complete this semester’s coursework online. “My professors in London have been really empathetic about their students being sent home, and they’re accommodating our situation as best they can. Due to the time difference, my professors aren’t doing live video chats. Instead, everything is being taught through Blackboard, so the transition has been quite seamless.”
The disappointment of not being able to remain in London for the whole semester is tempered by memories of her first study abroad experience in Madrid. “It was one of the best times I’ve ever had, and Madrid is among my favorite places in the world,” Allers says.
She is currently keeping herself sequestered in her room. “I’ve been doing a lot to keep my family healthy just in case I’m an unknowing carrier,” she says. “I’m almost through my 14-day quarantine. I have a routine of cleaning everything right after I use it and washing my hands before I go downstairs. I think I’m doing a pretty good job of it.”
Despite all the precautions she must take and the disruption to what promised to be a memorable semester abroad, Allers knows this is a historic moment and acknowledges the impact it has had on life as we know it. “I’ll remember seeing the initial panic on the U.S. news, the empty grocery stores and the sudden change when society came to a complete halt,” she says. But there have been moments of beauty, too. “When I was in New York City on my way home from London, I went for a walk one night in Washington Square Park. I was surprised to see a jazz band in the center of a small crowd. Everyone was sitting six feet apart, just listening.”