This blog post was contributed by Lucie Zacharova, Assistant Director of Advising on our Education Abroad team. Originally from the Czech Republic, Lucie traveled with her family to her home country during the COVID-19 pandemic. She writes about her experience navigating our new normal. Read Part II of her international travel experience.
All summer, I was slightly envious of my friends from Czech communities around the U.S. who took kids as usual to see their families in the Czech Republic. I thought it was not worth the risk. Then as our new school year started the way the last one ended, something in me broke like a fever—but in a positive sense. I was done with a fear of COVID-19 impacting my life. I still worry, deal with ambiguity and have a lot of second thoughts, but I talked myself into action: I was going to travel to my home country with my sons.
Just as I confirmed all the arrangements to travel and stay abroad, a second COVID wave hit Prague; numbers of infected started to surge. Mostly asymptomatic, mild cases were reported, but still, watching the numbers catch up to and exceed Texas’ data was nerve-racking. Despite second thoughts, we went. After all, COVID-19 can infect me and my boys in the grocery line or in my neighborhood in Texas just the same.
We could travel abroad, just like students with a student visa can, and we go back regularly to keep my sons’ bilingual Czech/English skills intact. Masks on, we entered Austin’s airport and witnessed a flying situation resembling off-peak travel times, with no real security line to speak of. Inside the terminal, some airport vendors were closed, and most people wore their mandated masks. I wore the “plastic insert” that makes breathing easier under a mask, while my kids did not.
When we were on the plane, my glasses fogged up until I figured out the perfect position. Wearing a mask the whole flight was fine, annoying, and then ok. We found it actually harder to remember not to touch our faces and get our hands close to our noses and mouths. We only took the masks off to eat or drink and diligently kept to ourselves. Others did the same. Some wore masks very poorly, no matter how many signs are around, so being careful was key. We used hand-sanitizer and washed our hands with soap every chance we got. Hand moisturizer made a world of difference.
The highlight of our journey was a night flight out of Newark, New Jersey at about 40% capacity. Although not ideal for the airlines, a half-empty plane evokes all sorts of at-ease feelings, and soon you realize that this indeed might be the nicest flight ever (minus the mask).
Transfers in Newark and Munich were similarly less busy, although not completely without people. As in the U.S., we did our washing routines and took off masks only to eat and drink. One was used to it by now. Upon arrival in Prague, we knew there would be a COVID-19 test (available at the airport with a wait or around town by appointment). The plastic sticks with swabs are thin, and in 30 seconds to a minute, the ordeal was over. We submitted the (negative) results to the city health station office to be able to have a less-restricted quarantine. We may do another test after 10 days (mandated for university students) and then we will do things the Czech way (most likely with masks on) and in great weather!