In isolation in Italy

Former OCC student Emma Garay has been unable to come back to the United States and is on lockdown in Florence, Italy.

Sitting in quarantine 6,203 away from her family, former Orange Coast College student Emma Garay is stuck in Florence, Italy.

Having received her accounting certificate from OCC last year, Garay decided to further pursue her education overseas at The Florence Academy of Art.

Garay said she enjoyed the first part of the school year and wasn't too homesick because she was so busy learning anatomy and completing live paintings.

Then came the day everything completely changed.

COVID-19 became a thing and Italy went on lock down.

“When I am in school I don’t miss my family but now I can’t not think about them,” Garay said.

When news of COVID-19 began circulating in Florence no one was too worried, Garay said. She said her school there is small and they thought there is no way they would close. 

According to Garay, she was in her cast drawing class and a classmate ran into the classroom yelling that they were probably going to get shut down. No one believed it. 

Only a few minutes later the class finished and the professor told the students they would get a notice if the class would resume the next day. The teachers rushed into a meeting to discuss, Garay said.

Garay said she went back for her evening drawing from a model class — the last class she would attend. Classes did not continue the next day or even the next week like she thought.

This last-minute cancellation turned out to be too late for Garay to leave the country and come back home, she said. The trains in Florence stopped running, making it impossible for her to get to an airport. 

“I couldn’t get my art supplies from the school since it shut down. I would have had to pack up everything too quickly and I can’t leave stuff here. I have to have everything out in June or else it gets thrown away,” Garay said. 

The technicalities of leaving were too difficult under the circumstances, leaving Garay stranded in her small, fourth floor Italian apartment with one roommate. A third roommate was able to get out and returned to the United States.

In a matter of three days their lives were flipped upside down. 

On March 4 schools were the only thing shut down. By the following Monday, everything closed and people, Garay included, were forced into self-quarantine. 

For Garay, she had little on hand to help cope with the isolation and even now tries to avoid being online too often.

“I don’t have books or board games, I don’t listen to the news and I will try to only check my phone twice a day,” Garay said.

Part of why Garay is struggling is the nature of studying abroad. She didn’t pack a car filled to the brim with belongings and just had a few suitcases with the essentials.

Even having a roommate hasn’t helped matters much, she said.

“We both know what each other are doing through the whole day so we can’t really ask how each other's days are because we know how each other's days are,” Garay said.

Unlike many classes at OCC, online schooling is out of the question for these students because the teaching style is very hands-on with live paintings, in-person critiques and many other variables.

Despite school being on hold indefinitely amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Garay said the Italian community came together.

The Italians have been very personable people, sitting on the balcony eating breakfast and talking to their neighbor next to them or above them, she said. She said they all come together and sing on their balconies at 6 p.m. — a new daily event.

She doesn’t know what to expect when the pandemic is over.

“I feel like when the stay-at-home order is lifted and I come out, I will feel like I am in a new world,” Garay said.

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