Reality Check: An adventure, a nightmare
Updated: Oct 5
Immigration laws make it difficult to receive equal travel opportunities
By Carolina Puga Mendoza
Everyone dreams of an excellent trip; of going places and exploring all cultures the world has to offer.
Many students from Franklin College took the opportunity to travel the world, whether it was for a month, a semester, or a year. They prepared for the trip of their life, but what do you do if everything you plan and prepare for falls apart in a single moment?
For a year and a half, I prepared the perfect trip to London, England. Jenny Cataldi, director of global education, introduced me to all the possibilities for travel and told me it was possible, even for someone like me, an immigrant. I had a farewell party, but who would’ve thought things were going to go downhill from there.
After a 10-hour flight, I arrived at Roehampton University, in London, which would be my home for the next four months. At first, news of COVID-19 had just begun, so I continued to make travel plans. I waited before exploring the city because I would tell myself, “I have time, there’s no need to rush.”
February was about getting used to my classes and meeting people on campus. All my traveling would take place in March and June. At the beginning of March, I kept receiving emails that our program continued operation, and we were reassured things were okay. Slowly, international students began to return home. And one day, I woke up to the email I had been waiting to receive.
“This is the message I feared was coming. It is now time to start planning to return home,” Cataldi said in the email sent March 16.
When preparing for my return, I said my last goodbyes to London and packed. But the borders shut down. My mother called me, and she said, “You can’t come home.”
I changed my flight until May, hoping things would get better. I cried. I did not eat. I did not leave my bed. I was a wreck.
There was no point.
Franklin College students received similar news from Cataldi. Those who were going to go abroad during their summer were told those trips were canceled too. Fall semester and immersive term trips were canceled soon after.
Like me, many students were going through the stages of grief, as I call it. We experienced denial, anger but no one to be mad at, bargaining, depression about our trip canceling and some sooner than later, acceptance.
"Lots of anger, not at me, but just at the world because of a loss of control,” Cataldi said.
After two weeks, I went on walks, started eating healthy again, and tried to get a lifestyle again. I met Elizeh Basim, an international student from Hawaii, who also stayed behind. She became my closest friend during quarantine. She made the loneliness go away. We laughed, cried, partied, had adventures, all within the campus’s walls.
The amount of support I received during those grueling months was impressive. I constantly received emails from faculty and staff checking on me. While I was hundreds of miles away, it felt like the Franklin College community was with me the whole time.
I moved my flight from May 16 to June 17, but it was okay, because Basim was there.
“When I really became worried is when the weeks became months, was your mental capacity to handle something like this,” Cataldi said.
June 17, Basim and I said our goodbyes and took different paths. As I arrived for check-in, they made me wait two hours for someone to check my passport. I sat and observed all the desperate travelers. Someone came rushing to where I was seated, picked my passport, looked at me, and said, “You cannot board this flight, you are not a U.S. citizen.”
There I was crying, not caring if people stared at me at the airport. Sitting in a corner of the busy airport, nowhere to go, no one to call, I was by myself, and did not know what would happen next.
I called my parents and Cataldi. My mom said my only option at that point was returning to Mexico. After two mentally draining days, I tried again and this time, I checked in to my flight. It took a 27-hour trip to make it to Mexico. The moment I saw my grandmother, relief rushed to my body. I wasn’t alone anymore. It was not just me, and I finally received the human touch I was craving for, a hug.
After completing my two-week, required quarantine, I tried again and took a flight back to Chicago. The anxiety as I approached the immigration officer, shaking with the thought that he could turn me down and I would not be able to see my family, who were a door away. But then I heard the words, “Welcome to the U.S.”
I took my passport; I took my luggage and finally reunited with my family. The travesty was over, and I was tired.