Two Auburn University professors have found themselves a long way from their home after travel bans put in place by President Donald Trump prevented international travel to and from the United States because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Professor Carmen Rossell and her husband, Jordi Olivar, traveled to their home city of Barcelona, Spain, for a funeral, not expecting that they would be stuck there potentially until the fall semester. Rossell teaches elementary Spanish courses at Auburn as well as other communicative skill courses.
“My husband and I traveled to Barcelona, Spain, on March 4 to attend my father-in-law’s funeral, who had passed away only two days prior," Rossell said. “I had plans to return to Auburn after spring break.”
When the Spanish government declared a “state of alarm” on March 14 because of the coronavirus, the U.S. banned flights to and from Europe in order to prevent the spread of the virus. By then, it was clear for Rossell and her husband that they would not be able to return to the U.S. to finish the semester in person.
Rossell said she and her husband are both Spanish citizens and permanent residents of the United States. They visit their family in Barcelona for a few months every year, so they already had an apartment there waiting for their arrival.
However, their apartment is very small and confined — not ideal for a place to live during a lockdown, they said. Even with such little space, she said she is doing her duty as a citizen to stay inside as much as she can.
“Almost everybody in [Spanish] cities live in apartments,” said Rossell. “Our [apartment] doesn’t have a balcony or any type of small area where you could, I don’t know, have breakfast in the sun … it’s confined.”
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The couple had not prepared for a five-month stay in a place across the world from their home in Auburn. Rossell said when stores open back up, she will definitely have to do some unplanned wardrobe shopping to prepare for the upcoming months.
“I traveled with only a carry-on bag, because I was going to be away for just a few days,” she said. “I didn’t even bring my teaching materials.”
So Rossell made the transition to remote instruction from a foreign country, with no school supplies but her laptop.
“It was stressful for a while thinking ‘OK, we are doing online,’ but if the campus is reopened, we could not travel, and we would have to be quarantined if we could travel [back to Auburn],” said Rossell. “So that was very stressful for me personally.”
Rossell said there are challenges that come with such a wide time difference between her and her students.
“We are seven hours ahead from Central Daylight Time here in Spain, so that means that when Auburn is waking up, we are having lunch,” Rossell said. “When we go to bed, everyone is still working, so usually we wake up to a ton of emails every day from the day before.”
Even with these challenges, the two professors have been working out their obstacles one day at a time. Rossell said she feels the transition will not get in the way of still having a successful end to the semester.
“I think we’ve been doing brilliantly, honestly," Rossell said. "Our students have been great, and I am confident we can finish out the semester successfully."
With such an unanticipated change in scenery, especially confined to such a small space, Rossell talked about some of the things she misses most about life on the Plains.
“Open spaces,” she said without hesitation. “That is always what I miss the most; the roominess is very different from what you get in Spain. It’s a good life in Auburn … so I miss that — the good life in Auburn.”
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