A little over a year ago, in March 2020, Samford University’s international travel advisory committee called the students of the Daniel House informing them the program was being cancelled due to the new and impending coronavirus.
Local: How did you feel when you heard the program was being cancelled?
Lilly Kate Hollis: When I heard the program was being canceled, I was in shock. I was not expecting that. I was expecting them to recommend that we not leave the country for spring break.
I had already gotten sort of a heads up from hearing that other programs were being canceled, but totally thought, ‘no, no. They’re being canceled because they’re in Italy, I’m in England. England is fine. Our program won’t be canceled.’
Obviously when we walked into the room, Tom and Jo, the staff at the Daniel House looked very solemn. They really weren’t answering any of our questions and then when we got on the phone with administration, they were speaking pretty professional jargon. Finally they cut to the chase and told us that they were sending us home.
I remember people in the room crying. I couldn’t, I didn’t feel that yet. I just went into survival mode and professional mode. Some of the people in my class were getting frustrated with the decision and the way that some of the aspects of it were being handled, like class credit and things like that.
I watched that disappointment turn into being somewhat abrupt with Tom and Jo. So I remember wanting to be extra professional, extra respectful, even though I was really devastated. It definitely did not hit me until later, what I was truly losing.
Local: What did you do after the announcement? Did you go on spring break?
LKH: After the announcement, I went upstairs and called my mom, my dad, and then my boyfriend and told them. My mom is a seven on the Enneagram and she was set to come over to Europe with me. We were going to meet at Heathrow and go on to Slovenia. You know, sevens on the Enneagram, choose fun, almost always… sometimes without looking at the risk.
That was a time that I was really grateful that my mom chose fun, because she was like, ‘Oh, I’m still coming’ without hesitation. Everyone I told was mad with me and sad with me. They really felt for me leaving London. I was just glad mom and I were still going to Slovenia.
I met her at Heathrow the Sunday that half of the group was leaving on the Samford-prepared flight back to the United States. It was nice to go to the airport with them. It was nice to travel with my community I needed at the time. I felt like I got to say goodbye to them at the right time.
After saying goodbye to my classmates, I went to my terminal and met my mom. It was such a relief to hug her. My mom and I went to Slovenia and we stayed a few days in the capital city Ljubljana.
Next, we drove to Lake Bled and stayed a couple of nights. On our last night there, before waking up to travel to our last destination, at 3:30 in the morning Slovenia time, we were woken up by calls from my dad saying Trump issued a travel ban and that we needed to come home instantly.
The Local: What was the actual journey coming home like?
LKH: I booked a flight right then for the morning from Ljubljana back to London. We spent the day in London, because there weren’t any flights that day. It was lovely to get to show my mom around, my favorite pub, where I worked and Buckingham palace. That was extra special because my parents had just started watching ‘The Crown,’ so she was so excited.
The next morning we flew from London to New York and that was a Friday. We had a really long layover in New York.
I remember we both laid on the floor on our backs in the New York airport, because we were so tired of sitting in chairs. Then finally at 11:30 PM, we landed back in Nashville where we live. That was just 30 minutes really, before the travel ban started.
My dad is immunocompromised since he is a cancer survivor, so we were actually looking to get COVID tested in the airports and there was nothing, no sign of anything.
The fact that all of those pictures of people being packed, like sardines waiting to get tested because the airport was under prepared, I mean, no wonder! Literally the day before there was nothing, nothing in the airport ready for that. So the actual journey coming home was stressful, but again, it was survival mode.
We knew we had to get back. So, we sucked it up. Part of it too was that we were grateful to be together and for the amazing trip we had just had.
It was interesting at Heathrow before we left. One of the women working at customer service was like, ‘you know what, it’s crazy, tomorrow, if non-Americans come to the airport, wanting to get on a flight to America, my job will literally be to turn them away.’
It was definitely a bizarre, bizarre time. We were exhausted by the end. The flight from New York to Nashville was on a tiny jumper plane, very turbulent. We were so tired.
I was trying not to be sad and was ready to be home.
The Local: What was it like in America when we came back?
LKH: It was survival mode. I mean we had a week off and then we started doing our classes online, which was nice to see my friends from the Daniel House, but also sad, because I realized what I was missing. Field trips I was missing out on that I would have had if I was still in the city.
One thing that was fun was we got to see our professors step away from the camera for a few minutes to go do the 6:00 p.m. cheer for the national health service workers. We were still getting glimpses of what it was like to be there, but obviously from home.
I felt like I couldn’t talk about it because everyone else in America was struggling with COVID limiting their lives now too.
To me, there was no point in expecting pity from what I was mourning. So, I just rallied and kind of shoved all those feelings down.
The Local: What is it like a year later?
LKH: I was having a hard time last week. My phone kept sending me ‘a year ago today’ images and it was so devastating to watch through images the last few memories in London, totally oblivious to what was about to come.
I think last year when I came home, I didn’t process any of what I was feeling. I didn’t mourn my experience at all.
I truly went into rational thinking of ‘you can’t do anything about it. You can’t be sad because being sad won’t help, so suck it up and move on.’
Normally I am a very emotionally healthy and aware person, so it was out of character for me to do not listen to my feelings. But I mean, it was a pandemic, no one had experienced that before.
So a year later, I really miss London. I miss the experiences that I should have had.
At the same time with graduation around the corner, I’m hoping to go back or live internationally and be able to visit. Traveling has always been my lifelong dream, and so even though one of my opportunities was cut short, I’m hoping for plenty more.