When the novel coronavirus broke out across the world, in my opinion, it seemed like New Zealand was one of the last countries to get it (behind some countries in Africa). It didn't feel like something I needed to worry about since it seemed contained in China and New Zealand's location is pretty isolated.
Arriving to the University of Waikato carried similar non-worry. All the facilities had huge bold red print posters all around warning about COVID-19.
Quite honestly, those signs gave off so much seriousness that I thought they were being paranoid. Yet, it was that kind of attitude that has kept their cases under their curve and protected so many lives.
However, the worry-free attitude couldn't be maintained as the virus spread more and more across the globe.
It wasn't until mid-March when the severity had increased. I heard about universities shutting down, students being sent home from abroad, and hearing reports of growing cases every day.
Personally, I was skeptical until the very end because I was positive that it wouldn't affect my abroad experience until I had Susquehanna, different scholarship organizations, and classmates suggesting I return back to the U.S.
One week later, New Zealand was up to a Level 3 Travel Restriction with an announcement that in 48 hours they would move to Level 4 indefinitely. Meaning, their boarders were closed to non-citizens and residents, restricting domestic and international travel, and closing non-essential businesses including all the fast food restaurants.
On the last day to inform Waikato whether I was staying or leaving the country was when I decided to travel home. I did not want to be stuck in New Zealand indefinitely, while my family and close friends were the ones most vulnerable to the virus.
I wanted to be closer to home should the worst occur. The International Student Services Office at Waikato were very clear about leaving and directly outlined the steps to continue online classes while away.
While being skeptical I was also fully confident in New Zealand's healthcare system, the university staff, and U.S. Consulate to care for me. I knew I was safe there even during a pandemic… it was just the crippling worry about family that would not allow me to stay. I'd still be there if I felt the same safety and security within my own home country.
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