School Abroad During a Pandemic (part 1)

Part 1

Getting There

The 5 months leading up to my vet med program, I wasn’t even sure there would be a program for me to attend. Covid-19 was consuming the world little by little each week. Mandatory restrictions made living life in my own country difficult enough, let alone trying to catch a flight overseas. 

Once the first wave passed and restrictions had eased, I booked a plane ticket and crossed my fingers. I had to make it to Croatia before the second wave.

Croatia and Covid-19

All things considered, Croatia had been handling the pandemic quite well. 

The first confirmed case of Covid-19 was in the capital city of Zagreb on February 25, 2020. In an effort to curb the risk of infection, research from Oxford University found Croatia to have imposed the world’s most strict restrictions relative to the number of individuals infected. While other countries were trying to delay restrictions, Croatia was proactive. 

During the lockdown, the city of Zagreb was hit with a 5.3 Mw earthquake, the most powerful earthquake in 140 years. Significant damage to buildings left people with no choice but to run to safety. Unfortunately, safety meant everybody clustering into large groups outside of the buildings. The earthquake made it very difficult to follow social distancing measures and it’s enforcement.

The main square at city center after the earthquake.

Case numbers during the first wave peaked at 1,258 active cases on April 14th, 2020, and then began dropping. On June 3rd, 2020 the number of active cases had decreased to less than 50. With numbers that low, Croatia was handling the situation well while other countries continued to struggle. 

Countries began closing borders, but Croatia decided to keep theirs open. Personally, I think this was the worst decision. It was summer and tourists flocked the coasts of Croatia, packing Covid-19 in their carry-ons. The country had gone from a safe haven to a hot spot in the span of days. Croatia had dug itself into a hole.

COVID-19 cases in Croatia from 25 February 2020 to 18 October 2020.

Booking a Flight

After much skepticism, I finally booked my plane ticket in July. The airline canceled that very ticket nearly one month later – there was a lot of uncertainty when it came to flights.

Literally, airlines were going bankrupt because there was nowhere to fly to! One day you’re allowed into a country, the next day you’re not. 

Even if you manage to book your flight, it’s up to YOU as a passenger to make sure that you are allowed onto that flight AND into that country. The last thing I needed was to show up at the airport and be refused entry. It’s times like these that you definitely want to opt into that flight insurance!

Getting my Covid-19 Test

Finding specific and up-to-date travel information was difficult to come by. I heard from another Canadian student studying in Zagreb that in order to get into Croatia, I need a covid-19 test done.

The process is odd because I needed this test to get into Croatia, not to get onto the plane. I also needed a valid reason for traveling to Croatia. Since I was a student and proved this with an acceptance letter.

Airlines have their own guidelines, and a covid test was not one of them.

I understand that people are confused with how to best approach the pandemic, but to me, making sure people are covid-negative before stepping into the airport is a good way to start. Maybe things will change with the next pandemic. That’s also what we said after SARS.

If I didn’t want to self-isolate, the Croatian government required travelers to present a Covid-negative test result that was no older than 48 hours old. Honestly, this time restriction makes it nearly impossible for anybody to travel. 

In Canada, test results can take anywhere from 2-7 days to be completed. This meant that my test had to be taken within 48 hours of my estimated arrival in Zagreb. This also meant that I had to cross my fingers and hope my results would be available within these 2 days.

Covid testing really helps practice patience. I went to the only walk-in covid test station back home in Ontario and planned to wait at least 4 hours to get my test sorted out. Funny enough, there was a reporter from The Record that was writing a story on the long wait times for covid testing and happened to talk to me. I’ve never been interviewed before and really didn’t think he would even use what I said. Funny enough, I was featured on the front page of the newspaper the next day!

The process may take time, but I’m thankful that testing is even accessible to us here in Canada. I got my test done via the nasopharyngeal swab and the sample was sent for PCR analysis. If you’ve never had it done, it’s as bad as it looks. They swab the very back of your nasal/pharynx region and keep wriggling it around for 5 very long seconds. When they are done, it burns. 

Imagine eating chips and then laughing so hard that you get a sharp chip crumb stuck up your nose. The burning sensation is definitely long and lingering.

My Flight

I flew out of Toronto with Turkish Airlines. I wasn’t sure what the experience was going to be like. Is it a full plane? Will they serve food? What about airport screening?

Yes, it was a full plane. I have never been on a plane so full (and I’m not exaggerating). They tried to promote sanitation by handing out sanitizing kits, but having a flight at 50% capacity may have been a better approach. 

Yes, they did serve food but they asked people not to eat at the same time as your neighbor. I waited to eat, but literally, nobody else did. They served cold food to limit vapors in the air and also gave everybody contained drinks – no cups.

Yes, they did temperature checks at the airport and that is about it. I actually think I made it through security much quicker than usual. They seemed more concerned about biosecurity than security.

Arriving in Croatia

If it wasn’t for my long layover in Istanbul, I don’t think my results would have made it in time. As soon as I arrived in Zagreb, I logged onto the airport WIFI, and BAM! Results were in and I was in the clear. I showed the immigration officer the results and emailed it to him directly at the airport.

If my results weren’t in, then I would only have to self-isolate for 14-days. Even if that was the case, I would rather self-isolate than get turned away.

…and the adventure begins!

Check out our Instagram page for updates on Part 2 of this blog!

I’ll give you the down low on what it’s like to LIVE and STUDY in Croatia during the pandemic.

2 thoughts on “School Abroad During a Pandemic (part 1)”

  1. I’m glad you got your Covid test results back fast! I’ve heard Croatia is beautiful, definitely a place I’d like to travel to! Hope you’re staying safe and having fun!

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