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COVID-19 Testimonial: Dan Whinnery

Posted on behalf of Dan Whinnery

The semester was rough enough already. Even though I had already gotten accustomed to living abroad in Scotland (I was studying abroad at the University of Glasgow), the university staff were on strike, and now I was receiving more and more emails about the coronavirus as the days progressed. My hopes were high at first; I thought the coronavirus would be mostly an issue in Asia. I thought I could still arrange travel plans throughout Europe for when break began.

First, we got word that Siena students studying in Italy had to go home, since the CDC had placed it high on its rankings for risk of infection. No big deal, I thought. Just don’t travel to Italy. And for a while, I was right. Life in Glasgow resumed as normal (minus the strikes).

A few weeks later, all Siena students abroad received an email that anyone studying within the European Union had to go home ASAP. I woke up that morning with a message from my friend lamenting the fact that I could no longer travel to Ireland to visit her, alongside emails from both Siena and the University of Glasgow. Politics aside, I was glad that Brexit happened, since I thought that it would at least guarantee me more time to prepare for the inevitable- that I’d have to go home too. But I was scared. I was scared of not only having to pack up and leave Glasgow so suddenly, or even getting infected myself, but also for my friends and classmates going through the same ordeal. A few hours after that, I received an email that Siena students in the United Kingdom had to leave ASAP as well.

I didn’t waste any time after saying my goodbyes and packed all my things up within minutes (I do regret how much my mom made me bring, but it was too late to do anything about that). I handed in the key to my flat and called a cab to the airport, where I spent the night awaiting an opportunity to get the next flight back to the US. I got very lucky when I managed to get a flight out within an hour of booking, making sure to avoid any layovers in the European Union for fears of penalty from Siena. My luck persisted when the check-in at Customs at Chicago O’Hare went smoothly; I had beaten the rush.

Thankfully, the university was already planning on going online for its last few lectures (their teaching period was practically over), so all I would really have to do is account for the time difference. At least with the strikes and the outbreak, I would be exempted from some of my exams, but sadly not the ones I was hoping to get exempted from. Such is the life of a STEM major.

One thing that I don’t think I’ll fully appreciate until enough time has passed is how much faith played a role in this journey. I don’t want to convert anybody or get on a moral high horse by saying that. I had made some good friends at the university’s Catholic chaplaincy in Glasgow, and they assured me that ultimately this was part of God’s plan for me and that letting go of my fear with this in mind would only benefit me. I said a prayer before my first plane out of Glasgow, and another before my final plane to Albany International. I think both of those prayers were answered considering how lucky I got.

In terms of learning remotely, one of my professors at Glasgow was actually quite innovative in his implementation of technology in the classroom, as he had already conducted office hours “virtually” and posted class materials onto Moodle, a platform similar to Canvas or Blackboard. He has already adapted well to Zoom and has already asked students about how they would like to see Zoom utilized. Others posted video lectures of their last classes that I still need to watch at the time of this writing. I would say that from what I’ve seen, remote learning is beneficial and has a lot of potential uses. My only issue is accounting for the time difference, which is something that I really need to work on.