Mary Beth Zachariades | May 26, 2020
In April 2019, 250 University of Notre Dame architecture alumni and friends traveled to Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rome Studies Program. The scene seems strange now — hundreds of people traveling to Italy, mingling with current students and faculty, reminiscing about their own youthful experiences in Rome. No one could have imagined that less than a year later, the traditional year in Rome would be halted early due to a global health crisis.
At around 2 a.m. Feb. 29, Zhian Yin, class of ’22, awoke to the sound of students on frantic phone calls in the hallway of the Villa, the residence of third-year architecture students during their year in Rome. Other students started to wake up as well, and soon the reason for the rush of late-night communication became clear: For the first time in history, Notre Dame was suspending its programming in Italy for the remainder of the semester and bringing students home — immediately.
“It was surreal waking up, thinking I might still be flying to the U.K. [for spring break], then to read multiple emails that ended up changing our plans for the entire semester — and summer — as well as messages from classmates in the program reacting to the emotional news,” said Patrick Vercio ’21. “The events happened so quickly.”
The University’s decision to evacuate its students from Rome came after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised the travel advisory for Italy to Warning Level 3 due to the increasingly rapid spread of the new coronavirus. Weeks earlier, a committee had formed with both School of Architecture and University leaders meeting regularly to continually assess the situation around the world. Both School of Architecture staff and staff from Notre Dame International at the Rome Global Gateway had been following University security measures since the virus surfaced in northern Italy, and when the news broke they were quick to mobilize students and support the impromptu departure process.
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