SBCC students faced pandemic from overseas, one tests positive


Courtesy image of Christiana Leonardo and Ariana Jordanou on Feb. 12, at Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy.

Alloy Zarate, Features Editor

City College graduate Christiana Leonardo was determined to stay in Europe last spring—through a travel ban, national lockdowns, and a canceled study abroad program.

If that weren’t enough, while she was in Portugal, her last stop before flying back home to the U.S., Leonardo tested positive for COVID-19.

“I really panicked,” she said. “I thought I was going to be stuck in Portugal forever.”

Leonardo started her trip around Europe in Florence, Italy where she was studying Art History after being awarded a Spring 2020 Accent Community College Scholarship. In Italy, her experience started positively.

“Right across from our school was this restaurant that had truffle gnocchi,” she said. “It was so yummy and I think about it all the time.”

She’d hear a chorus of Gregorian chants coming from a nearby church on her 23-minute walk back from a school with murals on the ceilings and “gold stuff everywhere.”

“We had school just four days a week,” Leonardo said.

This gave students the opportunity to plan weekend trips to Vienna, Switzerland and Budapest via train, bus or plane.

“I had plans to see my family in Northern Italy,” said former City College student Lauren Amigleo, another recipient of the Accent Scholarship.

Amigleo chose to return home to Orange County in March when the pandemic started to become a concern.

“I was frustrated because of how quickly it was spreading and impacting students,” she said.

The Florence study abroad program was canceled on March 1, not long after students were reassured that everything would continue as normal.

“I went on a weekend trip to France and then I got the email that the program was canceled,” said Leonardo. “It all happened super quickly.”

Many students had already flown back to the U.S. and were scrambling to find a way to get a refund from the program by the time she got back to Florence.

“I was pretty determined to not go back to America,” she said.

Leonardo acknowledged her ignorance at the time, thinking that the virus wouldn’t affect young people.

“I was very irresponsible and traveled despite the risk, I hope you can learn from my carelessness,” she wrote in an Instagram post, one week into her 14-day hospital quarantine.

She was on her way to Belgium a few days after the program was canceled then traveled to the Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal.

“In those countries you didn’t really feel it yet,” she said. “There were still people out, no one was wearing masks.”

She said she had a surreal experience when she returned from a long hike to find empty streets and shut-down shops.

“Everything was fine and then a few hours later everything changed,” she said.

Once she tested positive for COVID-19 on March 17, Leonardo started a two-week quarantine in a Portuguese hospital alongside other patients.

“I felt really grateful because I wasn’t even a citizen of their country,” she said. “I didn’t speak any Portuguese.”

Leonardo spent her days watching romantic comedies and soap operas to “keep it light.”

She was prevented from returning to the U.S. until she tested negative twice. She says returning home was “bittersweet” and that she hopes to get to travel again soon.

“I was still kinda sad,” she said, “I’m really antsy to travel but I know we can’t.”