Professoressa Wika on Being Trapped in Italy


courtesy of Alessandra Veronesi

Natalia Wika outside her student hotel prior to lockdown in Italy.

Lexi Nielsen, Reviews Editor

This past spring, many Americans were trapped abroad because they could not travel by airplane to come home during a global pandemic. One of these unlucky Americans happened to be one of HHS’s Italian teachers, Natalia Wika.

Wika originally traveled to Italy on sabbatical to finish her second master’s degree in Italian Linguistics through Middlebury College. She planned to attend graduate courses at the University of Florence and travel throughout Europe during the holidays. Unfortunately, these plans were spoiled when the Coronavirus swept through Italy, forcing them into lockdown.

Lockdown was very intense for us in Italy, and quite frankly, scary,” Wika said. “I remember on Friday, March 13th my friends and I celebrated a birthday and by that Monday we were all on lockdown.”

Lockdown in Italy meant that legal residents were not permitted to be more than 200 meters away from their homes, and the only places you could go, in fact, were pharmacies and supermarkets. For Wika, not being able to leave the house was frustrating, but leaving the house was almost worse as it caused paranoia. 

“It was scary because we knew very little about the virus,” Wika said. “For the first week of the lockdown, my housemate and I took turns using the kitchen and would bleach all the surfaces we touched.”

Like many other Americans, Wika found herself occupied by online classes, at-home exercises, and new TV shows. While these things kept her occupied, Wika still found herself missing family and friends from Europe and The United States. She did facetime hangouts with people she was missing, but it just wasn’t the same.

If there was any takeaway from this experience, Wika learned that the way information travels through technology was really surprising because Covid-19 symptoms like loss of smell and taste were well known in Italy before the news reached The United States. News outlets also made the situation more disconcerting for viewers instead of reassuring them during tough times.

“The region I lived in was never a hot spot, nor did I ever feel at risk,” Wika said. “Most of my family and friends were still very scared for me because of how the whole of Italy was portrayed in various media outlets abroad.”

Thankfully, after being in Italy for six of her intended ten months, Wika was able to return home. The US Department of Defense told all Americans living abroad to return home, otherwise, they might not be able to get back. 

“I’m glad I stuck it out for some of the lockdowns,” Wika said. “But, I was grateful to be able to return home safely for the rest of my school year.”