BEA grads make their way home from Europe
Like many college students, Rachel Mensing was excited to be going on a trip for spring break. But as circumstances with the COVID-19 situation became more serious, Mensing found herself on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean trying to get home.
“I left on March 8, to go to France to visit a high school classmate,” said Mensing, a 2017 Blue Earth Area graduate. “Things were fine until March 11, when the U.S. announced it was closing its borders with European countries.”
Mensing, the daughter of Chuck and Karen Mensing, says things got exciting then.
“I started receiving all kinds of texts from people who were concerned about me,” she says.
It is a sentiment shared by the person she was visiting, fellow BEA graduate, Olivia Myers.
Olivia, the daughter of Lars and Ali Bierly, arrived in France on Jan. 6, of this year. She is a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth and is majoring in communications with a minor in French.
Rachel was visiting Olivia at Aix En Provence, which is located north of Marseilles.
“I came over here to study the French language. I was supposed to be here until April 25,” Olivia comments. “But, like Rachel, life got crazy for me when they started talking about closing the borders, I woke up to a phone filled with text messages concerned about me getting home.”
But none of the texts were from her parents.
“I think they were trying not to panic me,” Olivia explains. “This all happened so fast. At the beginning of the semester there were some whispers of it (coronavirus), but once the virus got to Italy, life got a lot scarier.”
Rachel is in her last semester at the University of Minnesota where she will graduate in May with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. She had been keeping an eye on the situation with COVID-19 before she left on her trip to France.
“I kept up-to-date on the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) travel update website,” Rachel explains. “And the first 4-5 days of the trip were fine. The weather was warm and people were going about their business.”
But things changed in a hurry.
“There had been no warnings earlier in the week, but when President Trump made his announcement about closing the borders, the French president followed suit,” Rachel remarks. “Olivia’s other friends from the U.S., who were in France, really started freaking out and were trying to get out of the country immediately.”
As details of the border closings became more clear, Rachel says she knew she had time to leave. But, getting out of the country was easier said than done.
“My return flight was supposed to be a direct flight to Minneapolis on the 15th,” she says. “But that flight got cancelled and I could not accomplish anything online because the servers were overwhelmed.”
She finally had success contacting Delta by telephone, but it was not without difficulty.
“I finally got through to Delta and listened to their recording, which was telling me due to the high number of calls they were receiving, the wait to talk to anyone could be as long as six hours,” Rachel explains. “Well, I was only on hold for two hours when I finally got through.”
She had her plane ticket home and things were looking good, until Sunday, March 15, when it was time to leave.
“All of the changes and cancellation of flights caused a discrepancy insome flight times so I missed my connecting flight,” Rachel shares. “But the Delta agent got me booked on the next flight. I flew to Amsterdam, then to Atlanta, where I had to be screened for the virus, before flying home to Minneapolis.”
Olivia has also made the trip back to Minnesota.
“I had a hard time getting in touch with a Delta agent,” she says. “But as of today, March 23, I have been home for five days.”
Both Rachel and Olivia are under a self-quarantine for 14 days.
“I have had a little sniffle but I have not had a fever or felt sick,” Rachel says. “If all goes well, I hope to come to Blue Earth to see my parents after March 30.”
Olivia is doing her quarantine in Blue Earth.
“My mother picked me up from the airport so she is quarantined with me at our home,” Olivia says. “Dad rented a place to stay through Airbnb so he can keep going to work.”
So with Olivia and her mother Ali holed up at home until the beginning of April, it is up to Lars to make sure they have supplies.
“I am their errand boy,” Lars says laughing.
But it is very much appreciated by his daughter.
“It is really sweet,” Olivia says. “He drops off food for us and makes sure we have everything we need.”
As of the morning of March 24, national news outlets were reporting over 13,000 Americans remained abroad, trying to return home.
“It was a fun trip, but with everything going on with COVID-19, it is nice to be home,” Rachel says.