Stranded in Canada: COVID kept Spanish student from getting home

Castleton student Sara Molina took this picture from the plane headed to Canada in March 2020 to ride out COVID-19 because she was unable to return to her home country, Spain.

It’s was busy Sunday morning at Huden Dining hall in mid-March 2020 at Castleton University. 

It wasn’t unusual to hear stories about the night prior or a recap of the wildest adventures of the weekend and hear girls laugh while they match stories to figure out how they all got back to the dorms okay. 

I didn’t think much about it, had my pancakes and orange juice quick, and ran back to Adams Hall. 

While I was entering my suite, my teammates were surrounding the couch, giving all their focus on the tiny little screen that Sam was holding, while she was reading out loud the email for everyone to hear.

I wasn’t understanding what was happening, but I knew it had to be serious if Sam and Katie were awake at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. 

Sam’s voice started to shake, as she read data information, which made the rest of the girls, Barda, Darby and Katie, look at each other. 

“What’s going on?” I asked calmly. 

“Sam’s boyfriend just got an email from his university saying they are shutting the school down for two weeks due to a new virus,” Katie answered.+

What does that mean for us?, I though. 

While everyone on campus and on social media made assumptions of what was going to happen with us, others packed their bags and Googled COVID-19.

 I put all my focus on figuring out what was going on in my private life and my relationship with James, a Canadian boy I met in high school in Banff, Alberta. 

A virus is not going to ruin my freshman year or my hockey season, I thought. 

The email 

Monday morning, you could feel less movement around campus.There were fewer cars in the freshman parking lot and a peace I never felt before at Huden Dinning Hall. 

Classes were canceled and we were waiting for directions. 

This just made the environment more awkward and sentimental. 

“Sam, you are going to see Kyle again, I promise you,” Barda kept repeating like a TikTok video on the for you page. 

I felt Sam’s pain. I didn’t know what was happening with the relationship I was in either. I didn’t even know what was happening with myself. What if I had to go back to Spain? 

“It’s only a two-week lockdown,” Darby said to calm us down. We will get an email to go home, like Kyle did, and you will get to see him Sam,” she added every time Sam cried. 

On Tuesday we got the email. 

Thirty minutes later Darby, Barda and Sam were on the road on their way to Boston to be home with their families. 

Katie was packing when I entered her room.

“Girl, you packing?” Katie asked while hustling to get everything from the closet.

“I can’t contact my parents,” I said, starting to cry. “ I don’t know what to do. It’s 1 a.m. in Madrid and they are both sleeping,” I said while I hugged her and cried all over her hoodie.

“We’ll figure it out,” Katie said. 

We tried. 

Katie’s parents drove me to the Springfield bus stop where I took a bus to Boston to get to Logan Airport. 

While on the trip to Boston, I was hoping my parents were waking up to plan our next move. 

I had a lot of time to think about what was going on in my relationship and what I wanted for myself, so I broke up with James and tried to begin a friedship relationship with him. 

I felt relief, like I could finally breathe deep and exhale without shaking or feeling stress. 

Logan Airport

I picked my duffle bag from the top compartment of the bus while I put my jacket on and looked back to my seat to make sure I didn’t forget anything.

I rushed out of the bus and into the airport trying to find the international terminal. 

Masses of people from all over the world were sprinting in every direction, making it completely chaos among customers, airlines and airport staff.

I never felt more anxious, I just wanted someone I knew to hold my hand and say follow me. 

Suddenly, I heard a male talking Spanish with my accent sprinting to a boarding door, so I followed him, put my Crocs on sports mode, and ran after him like Kevin in Home alone 2 when he gets lost in the airport. 

Finally, I see a boarding door that says Iberia, something familiar, but I hear lots of angry and desperate people around this door, and I know something is not right. 

My phone rings. It’s my dad! 

“Where are you?” is the first thing my dad asked when I picked up.

“Logan,” I answered, shaking. 

“You can’t come home,” my dad said right away. 

What did he mean I couldn’t go home? Where was I supposed to go, I though to myself while tearing up. 

“Madrid just closed, the airport, the roads, the metro … It’s way to dangerous to come. We can’t go outside, Sara. I can’t even pick you up from any other airport. You need to talk to James and go to Canada.” 

“ I can’t,”  I yelled. “I broke up with him three hours ago on the bus to Boston, dad,” I said starting to sob. 

“Talk to your high school billet mom,” he said calmly. “You might be able to stay in Banff. Being a national park is probably safer than Madrid.”.

Then I called Lesley. 

She was surprised I called and wanted to help as much as she could. 

She and my dad looked for plane tickets to Calgary while I walked from one side to another of Logan Airport to find the new boarding door to go to Canada. 

Finally I got a ticket and waited patiently at my gate. My body was giving up on me and all I wanted was to be inside the plane to take a nap.

Calgary Airport

I woke up to the “Welcome to YYC Calgary Airport” announcement from the plane. 

Finally I’m here, I thought. 

I pulled my phone out and disabled the airplane mode. 

I suddenly started getting all the messages from when I was in the air – from Lesley and my dad.

Because Banff is a national park, it closed its roads and doors to anyone living inside the park and outside, due to the pandemic. 

Great, I’m stuck in Calgary and the only one I know here is James is what kept circling my mind.

I had to call him.

“What up! Are you already in Spain?” he asked, all excited. 

“ No,” I said starting to tear up. “I need your help please. I’m stuck at the Calgary airport.I I don’t have anywhere to go,” I said after a intense silence. 

“I can pick you up. You can stay with my family,” he said right away, almost without letting me finish the sentence.

Suddenly, my backpack wasn’t heavy anymore and I felt peace in my body. 

I passed through customs and screening, and exited right out to the parking lot. 

There he was in a white pick up truck waiting for me behind a taxi driver with a smile from ear to ear. 

I would have liked to feel the same way. I was just too tired and wanted to lay down in a bed, be with my family in my hometown and not feel as scared as I was. 

I still had many doubts, many questions to resolve and I felt tense, but at the same time relief.

I had a house to go to, with a family that I’ve lived with before and felt comfortable with.  

Now, looking back at the pictures from this story gathered in Snapchat, I can tell this experience made me grow and taught me how sometimes giving up isn’t an option and you just need to keep pushing and keep going.

The end of the road is not always what you think. You never know the end of the road until you get there. 

– Sara Molina

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