“We had one of those moments when time stops, and you realize that this is actually happening,” explained Nate Sirovatka, describing the hours leading to his return from studying abroad in Cairo.
In the wake of COVID-19, many students found themselves stuck as their trips abroad suddenly fell apart. In an interview, Sirovatka explained his experiences abroad, coming home, and his processing of the events since then.
The Cairo abroad group’s plans initially shifted over seventy-two hours, explained Siovatka. During this time, the group went from believing there were going to be no changes to their schedule, to believing they would only spend time in Turkey, then only spending time in Egypt, until they finally left for the US days later. Within a week of their discovery of COVID-19’s effects on Westmont and the United States, Sirovatka was back in Oregon.
This abrupt departure, according to the senior history major, capped off what had been a wonderful semester up to that point. “Cairo is an incredible, rich city,” Sirovatka enthusiastically expressed as he reminisced over his time in Egypt.
Students on this trip walked by street vendors daily, worked with organizations such as the Sisters of Charity, and visited ancient Coptic churches. Sirovatka reflected that “it was cool to be a part of the city as an outsider,” and that, through his brief time in Cairo, he was pushed into thinking about what it means to be both a “world citizen and Christian of the world.”
Going from a “city of thirty million to a household of four” was a difficult adjustment. Sirovatka described spending most of the summer in solitude because of quarantine, missing the independence and community provided by a large city. On top of the sudden lack of freedom, the history major and musician mentioned the lost opportunity to say goodbye to seniors on the choir tour he planned to attend early that summer in Scandinavia.
However, Sirovatka insisted that he got through his trip’s dismissal only with his cohort’s support, who had “been a blessing and one of the only bright sports of being home early.” The group of Westmont students reportedly kept up an “active group chat” that they filled with communal encouragement and positive affirmation.
On campus, Sirovatka also found that his shortened time abroad acted as a huge confidence booster, explaining that he feels encouraged in tasks on campus and Santa Barbara, saying, “If we could do it there, we can do it here.”
Sirovatka’s experience reflects what countless other students went through in the middle of March: a premature departure from abroad trips that were meant to be a staple of their time at Westmont. However, Sirovatka affirmed that, although he is still discovering the takeaways of the trip, he would not exchange his experience for any other.