Helena Perez-Gonzalez is an international student from Córdoba Spain, who attended Wahlert Catholic High School as a junior for (most of) the 2019-2020 school year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Helena’s experience in Dubuque was cut short. And having missed the opportunity to say her proper goodbyes, Helena sent us a letter about her experience going home to Spain.
What happened when you left Dubuque?
I left Dubuque on Thursday, March 26. My host family took me to the Dubuque airport, where Candela (also an international student from Spain) was with her host family already. As soon as we checked in my big suitcase everyone started crying. It was really sad. Just the thought of it makes me want to cry. We had to leave so abruptly and too soon. It breaks my heart that these last three months of the experience were canceled; that I couldn’t say goodbye to so many people; and that I had to leave my host family.
Candela and I passed the security control and once we were on the other side we put our gloves and masks on. Most passengers were already wearing masks but not all of them. While we were waiting to enter the plane, we could see our host families through the glass doors. I felt like I would just walk through those doors and go back home with them, as if this situation wasn’t happening.
When we got on the plane they made everyone sit on their respective seats, they didn’t let us spread out which I think would have been better. In fact, one of the passengers was coughing near us so we were really uncomfortable. The flight went by so fast. I was just staring through the window and doing nothing, I felt numb.
When we arrived in Chicago, we headed to our next flight that would take us to Dallas. Chicago’s airport was almost empty. I had never seen it like that. Most of the shops were closed in the terminal that we were in. Most people were wearing masks but there wasn’t much social distancing. When we arrived at the gates, Candela and I joined another group of kids that were part of our organization, too, and we took the flight together. In this plane, they told us to spread out because there were plenty of empty seats.
Once we got to Dallas more people joined our group and we searched for the person that was going to take us to the next flight. When we found him, we got onto a bus and to the next terminal, passing all the controls again. At this airport they made us practice social distancing in the queues and control.
We waited more than seven hours for the flight that would take us to Spain. During those hours, I had time to see all my friends and talk to them. The airport was so empty and everything was closed. Candela and I went for some walks while waiting.
We boarded the plane at 1 a.m. The private plane was just for the people from my organization, so we could sit wherever we wanted to. We arrived in Madrid at 4 p.m. We were the only people at the airport apart from the workers. Then, we took buses to our cities. Candela and I said goodbye to each other. We had to do it really fast because they wanted everyone to get on the buses.
While traveling down south there was no one on the highways. I have never seen anything like that. These roads are always full of traffic jams and busy. The only vehicles I saw on the road during the four-hour ride were a few police cars, semi-trucks, and our bus. I was really shocked.
Then I arrived in my city, Córdoba, and just my dad could come and pick me up. The fact that this happened in this way breaks my heart. I was supposed to come back on June 11th and my parents would have gone to pick me up in Madrid and we would have had a reunion with family and hangout with friends. It is so sad that I still haven’t seen my family or friends.
Reuniting with Family
To be honest, when I saw my dad I didn’t want to hug or kiss him on the cheeks (that is what we do in Spain every time we see someone after a long time or even every day). I was afraid because I had been exposed to a lot of people from all over the US and there was a high probability to catch the virus. So I waited until I got home and took a shower and tried to clean everything to give both, my mum and my dad, a big hug. They were truly happy to see me and they were smiling all night long.
Continuing Coursework at Wahlert Catholic
I start online lessons at 4 p.m. and finish around 9 p.m. I’m doing okay because I like working on the computer, and teachers are sharing all the resources we may need to complete the assignments.
In Spain, not everyone has a computer at home, or there are too many siblings that need the only computer available in the house. This has made it difficult for schools to continue the year as usual because not everyone has the resources that they need to continue to receive lessons.
What is life like Spain right now?
We are in a lockdown. People cannot go outside of their houses unless they are essential workers, going to the doctor, buying groceries, or walking their dog (no more than 300 meters, or so, away from your house).
At 8 p.m., everyone goes to their balconies or front door to clap and cheer for our healthcare workers all over Spain. Healthcare in Spain is public, and these workers are working so hard to cure and help people. I am so proud that everyone can have access to healthcare and, in a situation like this, we see how important it is.
How is your family feeling and what are you all doing during this time?
My family is sad that we are in this situation. Being at home 24/7 is not the worst, but they miss going for walks, working and seeing their coworkers, and visiting family.
They know how hard it was for me to leave the US, and they didn’t want me to experience these circumstances. They are truly happy that I am back home with them and that we are spending so much time together, though.
My mum goes to her workplace once per week. My dad doesn’t. Therefore, almost every single day each of us is doing things or tasks around the home. I am always doing homework because, apart from Wahlert, I also have to do assignments for my Conservatory, which is still giving lessons. The three of us exercise every day, either on the treadmill or the bicycle, because we cannot go outside, not even for a run. We are cooking and baking a lot. Every day, we make something different and we share it with our neighbors to try. We all share, and the food is awesome. The three of us are together at meals and in the evening when we watch a movie. We also play board games.
Is there anything you would like to share with the Wahlert community?
I am already into a routine so I don’t feel as sad as the first days when I came home. But every time I think about how my experience in Dubuque ended, I want to cry. I miss my host family so much. They, too, are my family, and I hate being so far away from them. I also miss my friends so much, they are awesome and it breaks my heart that I couldn’t say goodbye to most of them. I also miss Wahlert, the teachers, staff, sports, teammates… I was really looking forward to tennis with Mrs. Leonard.
I would say, please continue to practice social distancing and follow the rules to stop the spread of COVID-19. I know it is really annoying not to see your friends or family and having to stay home, but if people keep doing anything they want, this is never going to end. Also, not just to the seniors but everyone in high school: I am so sorry your year ended up like this. I know how it hurts to miss these last three months of high school and all the experiences that you could have had. I also know it doesn’t help to think about it, but every person needs time to heal, so it is okay if you feel bad and helpless in this situation. Just know that you are loved and that you still have a whole lifetime in front of you.
– Your Friend Helena
If you would like to learn more about the international program at Wahlert Catholic, please contact Holy Family Director of Enrollment Rebecca Mueller, email@example.com.