What It's Like Being an American in Paris During the Pandemic
The globe is still atwitter with the rapidly evolving coronavirus. In President Trump’s very confusing announcement that left many questioning if he has the virus himself, he announced that the US would be closing its borders to Europe. As a student studying abroad, I was one among many students wondering what that means for them. The statement, that was issued at 2 AM Paris time, caused hysteria in university spheres. Group chats, calls, and texts from concerned family members and ex-pats inundated many students’ phones. While the President added that Americans reserve the right to return, he noted that any Americans returning will be subject to medical evaluations.
Many of my friends studying abroad for the semester have already been sent home by their American universities. But with the announced health screening measures that were implemented starting Friday at midnight, many of the remaining Americans booked the first flights they could find. Airports like Charles De Gaulle were teeming with foreigners trying to get back home at any cost. One report cited one American bought a $20,000 ticket to get back home.
Many of my fellow students packed up their apartments at 3 AM, called their parents and booked the first flight leaving to their hometowns. Suitcases were lined up in the school's lobby Friday morning. And many of the school's facilities like the café or library were barren.
As for me, I decided to stay in Paris. Considering the lack of direction in the US in response to the virus, as well as the overexposure implied by boarding a plane, the multiple risk factors led me to believe the best option is staying where I am.
Thursday evening, French President Macron also released a statement in response to the coronavirus. He explained that all schools will be shut down starting Monday, March 16 until further notice, and encouraged anyone who can work from home to do so.
He also responded to the US closing their borders saying “It’s not a time to close ourselves, but a time to work together to find solutions.” Adding, “the virus of nationalism has no passport”. However, Macron made clear that this pandemic is more than a looming threat, “We are only at the beginning of the epidemic. Everywhere in Europe is accelerating.”
So where does this leave students? My school, the American University of Paris is complying with Macron’s decision and is training its faculty to use Microsoft’s App, Teams. For the most part, remote learning will be available, with assignments submitted online. However, remote learning is not a simple solution for an international university. Many students are making the decision to return home. With different time zones, a class that normally takes place at 10:30 AM would be difficult for a student in California, where that same class would be 1:30 AM Pacific Coast time. This is an issue many professors are still trying to evaluate how to solve. For seniors, the looming school shutdown poses another issue: graduation.
At the moment, all large events are discouraged from taking place, which includes graduation. There have been talks of designing “digital graduation”, but for many families that have already booked flights and hotels, this is a disappointing solution.
Schooling aside, Paris, like many cities, is combatting the mass hysteria. After Macron’s statement, many raced to their local grocery store to stock up on essential items.
Grocery stores are running out of toilet paper, hand soap, sanitizer, and pasta. Lines for pharmacies are out the door. I strolled down the usually bustling Rue Cler only to find a handful of groups occupying the typically popular outside seating. With an uncertain future, Parisians and Americans abroad alike are looking for what lies ahead in the foggy future.