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Urbino college students suffered as Covid ravaged their country

Urbino college students suffered as Covid ravaged their country

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Italy was among the earliest and hardest hit countries in Europe

URBINO, Italy – When students at the University of Urbino remember life during the peak of COVID-19, they recall inconveniences such as online classes and missed social events that also frustrated their American counterparts.
But as residents in one of the hardest hit nations in Europe, they have other, more distressing memories, such as this one by Alessia D’Aprile, 25, after her father contracted Covid from his brother and was taken to the hospital:
“When they gave him back, he was already in the closed coffin,” she recalled. “So, we had the funeral, but we never saw him again.”

Evaluna Makena Galli (left) laughs with her friends Pucci Celeste (middle) and Tavanti Viola (right) after leaving Art class for the day. “My social life has improved since Covid ended. We started dancing again, walking out again, and going to drink freely. It’s nice to see the streets full in the evening.”

COVID-19 rapidly devastated Italy, crippling the country from smaller towns to great cities. In response the Italian government literally locked down the whole nation. This meant only being allowed to leave one’s house to go to the supermarket. People could only walk their dog 600 feet from their homes.

But the pandemic still took a serious toll. According to research done by Johns Hopkins University, Italy recorded is 17.8 million cases with 168,000 deaths. The toll in Marche region, where this famous Renaissance city is located, is currently 480,000 cases with 3,922 deaths.

The rate of infection has now decreased significantly, and students are gradually getting back to normal Italian college life. But Covid left behind lasting memories, such as Alessia D’Aprile’s.

Just days after a visit from her uncle, D’Aprile’s mother fell very ill with her father following shortly after. While her mother was able to recover, her father, only having one working kidney, had to be moved to the hospital for intensive care, where he passed away.

In my city in Cattolica there were people dying at home. [One day] my friend called me crying saying her neighbor is screaming because he had two dead parents in his house.

“I went to the psychologist immediately because it’s like he went somewhere,” D’Aprile said. “And then I’m just here waiting.”

Fellow student Sara Gabellini, 24, had an experience that was also scarring.

“In my city in Cattolica there were people dying at home.” she says. “[One day] my friend called me crying saying her neighbor is screaming because he had two dead parents in his house.”

During this time, Gabellini was staying with her boyfriend at his parent’s house in southern Italy, far away from her hometown in central Italy. Gabellini started seeing a therapist because of the extreme anxiety of knowing her parents were stuck at home in Cattolica.

For Lucia Piazzalunga, 26, the pandemic means memories of blaring sirens and freshly dug graves in her hometown, Bergamo, one of the hardest hit in Italy.

“I live near a hospital in Bergamo and usually you listen to the birds, traffic, cars, but [during the pandemic] you only hear the ambulance all day,” she recalled.

Sara Gabellini, a current Foreign Language student, stands in Collegio Raffaello in her former English classroom. “The bad impact [of COVID-19] is that I lost the ability to speak languages and also to know my classmates, my colleagues. And it was bad. And now I realized that I don’t know Russian very well. I didn’t expect that when I started my master’s degree here.”
“In Bergamo there were [so many] deaths, you had corpses in churches because there weren’t places to have funerals. There were military cars that took the corpses outside the cities to cemeteries away.”

Other students like Matteo Ridolfi, 23, were not affected in quite the same way.

Ridolfi, now in his fifth year of foreign language studies, has lived in Urbino since 2019. Though passionate about his education, during lockdown he found himself losing his excitement to learn.

“I woke up like five minutes before a lesson and sat in bed all day wearing my pajamas,” he said.

Virtual classes didn’t cause his grades to drop, Ridolfi said, but the lack of social interaction due to nationwide isolation caused him to suffer emotionally. He said that students got so desperate for human interaction that sometimes people would gather in groups despite the law against those gatherings.

“One time the police stopped me at 3:00 p.m. and I had to pay a fine of 280 euros,” he recalled.
Whether students stayed on campus during lockdown, or left home to be with family, all said they experienced loneliness.

Returning to normal habits after a life-changing event that endured for over two years has been a difficult process for many students. Some, like Chiara Centauro, 26 reported feeling uncomfortable to sit in large crowds at festivals or even to sit next to fellow students in class.

“I don’t want to go to concerts or discos now because I am a little bit afraid,” she said.
As a small city with a population of only 15,400 of which almost 14,000 are students, Urbino suffered fewer cases, but was not spared the impact of the strict regulations.

Student Sofia Urb, 24, stayed in isolation with her family at their home in Urbino, right outside the walls of the campus. She contracted Covid-19 twice but fortunately experienced only mild symptoms.

Lucia Piazzalunga sits upon her windowsill, watching the locals mingle outside. “I was working before, during, and after the lockdown and with the lessons online and doing my thesis I didn’t have any time to go out.”

Urb found online lessons very useful to her because it gave her something to do during her long days in quarantine. She passed the time by baking, video chatting with friends, and tending to her garden.

But Urb acknowledged that lockdown was harder on her now 20-year-old brother.

“Your social life is more important when you’re eighteen, because in Italy when you turn eighteen you can drive and you can drink legally,” she said. “He passed his eighteenth birthday in quarantine, so it was really sad.”
Urb felt lucky because she graduated in February 2022, so Covid wasn’t as extreme, but a lot of her friends had to graduate virtually.

Now, thankfully, life is back to normal for this university city and its students.

Infographic by Rebecca Smith