From DC to Europe: students share their “coronacation” experiences

Nate Belman

From the beginning, 2020 has been a weird year for travel. As the year started back in January, few knew about the pandemic awaiting us in the near future. Travel plans started to form — plans for skiing in March, plans for Spring Break college trips, and plans for the annual beach trip for the most prepared vacationers. But come mid-March, all those plans were thrown into uncertainty by Covid-19. 

Travel restrictions, lockdowns, rising unemployment, and public safety fears drove all but the most die-hard travelers to scrap or reconsider their plans. The majority of America has spent the last three-fourths of 2020 at home, adjusting to a world where we can’t hug our own grandparents. For many people, the world shrank, as plane trips to Europe turned into road trips to the Shenandoah. But, through a worldwide pandemic, a global racial justice movement, and a turbulent national election, the most committed travelers found a way to escape the confines of their homes for more than a week. And some of them happen to be DC students.

Sophomore Deirdre de Leeuw den Bouter didn’t have as hard of a time getting to Zurich as she thought she would. “It was actually quite easy,” she remembered. “I got tested before I left, more for my own sake, since I didn’t need a test to travel… My plane was super empty and only had like 50 people, plus I had a row to myself which was nice.” Her father lives in Zurich, Switzerland, and she traveled to live with him until the semester ends on January 29. She’s still taking Wilson virtual classes – though the time difference of 6 hours means she doesn’t get out of class until 10 PM.

Pandemic life has been very different for de Leeuw den Bouter ever since she got to Switzerland. “Here, people take the pandemic as more of an inconvenience than a full change in lifestyle,” she said. “The Swiss government has been very lenient on lockdowns, and everyone here agrees with that decision.” There was no quarantine for de Leeuw den Bouter upon entering the country, but that doesn’t mean that the Swiss are complacent when it comes to containing the virus. “Everyone here wears their mask when asked to, such as in the train.”

Living in Switzerland is definitely a change from the marshes of the DMV, but is it worth the hassle? She seems to think so. “In Switzerland there is generally more to do, so I’m less bored than I was in DC. Plus, the school hours are really nice and give me lots of time in the morning.” So if you have the chance to escape to the Swiss Alps for a couple months in the near future, I advise you to take it.

Louis Kutuyla, brother of senior Will Kutuyla, had a much harder time traveling to Antwerp, Belgium, than de Leeuw den Bouter did getting to Zurich. “The visa application was a mess,” Kutuyla said. “I didn’t end up getting the student visa I applied for due to an error at the embassy and am currently here on a touristic visa with a letter from the Belgian consulate in DC saying that I can travel to Belgium regardless of Covid regulations.” Luckily, the mishaps were over by the time he boarded the flight. “The flight was not a problem at all.”

Kutuyla traveled to Antwerp to attend a school for optical stone setting, or stone (gem) setting with the aid of a stereo microscope — a program he dropped out of college for. It’s a decision he says was hard, but it turned out to be the right one. “It’s been one of the best decisions of my life, so saying it was a good trip would be an understatement.”

Belgium has the highest Covid death rate of any European country, so it has tight Covid restrictions — but that doesn’t mean everyone follows them. “Technically speaking there are far more restrictions in Belgium than in the US, but here, at least in contrast with DC, people are less inclined to follow guidelines, and there are built-in loopholes for businesses,” Kutuyla said. “Mask wearing isn’t a huge thing, though it is technically mandatory in public spaces.”

These dual experiences about living in a different country during the ongoing pandemic prove something we should all know by now — going to Europe isn’t going to solve your Covid problem. Though other governments’ responses to Covid may allow its citizens to take more liberties than Americans, we’re all living the same basic reality. If you get the opportunity to travel safely, it will likely give you a break from the repetition and monotony of DC pandemic life, but it won’t make the virus go away. You’ll still have to take virtual PE. Ugh.