Sharon grad and current Kent State student Bethany Wallace planned to spend the entire spring semester studying the architecture and culture of Italy before the COVID-19 outbreak forced her back to the states.

HERMITAGE — During her time studying architecture in Italy, Bethany Wallace got to see some of the world’s most iconic buildings — including the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the third-largest church in the world.

“I liked the idea of being able to travel to different places every weekend,” Wallace said. “Living the city life was also really interesting.”

She had planned to spend Kent State University’s entire spring semester studying the architecture and culture of Italy. But the COVID-19 outbreak changed the Hermitage woman’s plans.

Wallace, a 2017 Sharon High School graduate, said she spent about eight weeks in Florence, Italy, before arriving home March 4 from her study abroad program. Wallace said she is continuing her studies online.

“It’s unfortunate, but I guess it’s for the best at this point,” said Wallace, 21. 

Perhaps one of the classes Wallace said she will miss most is her “History Renaissance” class.  

As part of her course curriculum, Wallace said she visited all the churches and basilicas in the city of Florence. Before she was forced to leave Italy, Wallace said she was able to squeeze in a few weekend excursions to Paris and the city of Prague in the Czech Republic.  

Before her forced departure, Wallace had hoped to see more of Europe’s sights.

“I had a lot of other trips planned,” she said. 

Emily Vincent, Kent State University director of university and media relations, said school officials decided Feb. 29 to recall more than 200 students home from overseas study after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Level 3 travel health notice for Italy.

Italy became a center of the COVID 19 pandemic, and Kent State University ordered its students to return home.

“Once Italy became a CDC Level 3 warning, that was when we said we have to bring them back,” Vincent said. “Our foremost priority is the students’ health and safety, so we took the necessary steps for their protection.”

Wallace said she received an email from Kent State officials about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29, that she and her classmates were being ordered home starting the following Monday, March 1.

“At first, I was really upset and frustrated because I thought it wasn’t too bad in Florence,” Wallace said. “I was kind of mad. But looking back on it now, I know my parents are happy I’m home at this point.”

Wallace said she’s in self-quarantine until Wednesday, and her architecture classes have gone online.

“We’re Skyping our professors,” she said. “It’s still face-to-face, just digitally. We’ll be able to complete the entire semester at home.”

Vincent said Italy is now locked down.

“They closed all their schools, universities,” Vincent said. “So it was good we got our students out when we did.”

Wallace agreed. 

“Professors said it was for the best because they can’t leave their homes now,” she said. 

In an effort to slow the spread of the rapidly developing COVID-19, Vincent said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has ordered all colleges and universities to move from face-to-face instruction to online classes. 

Beginning Monday, all Kent State University students moved to digital instruction. Vincent said students will be on spring break through the week of March 23 and will begin online instruction the week of March 30.

As for Wallace, Vincent said Kent State University is doing everything in its power to assist students who have been displaced from their study abroad programs.

“We’re doing everything to help them so their academics are not affected,” Vincent said. “We are being very flexible. These are very unusual circumstances.”

Despite coming home earlier than she expected, Wallace said she looks back on her time in Florence, Italy fondly.

“It was a really incredible experience,” Wallace said. 

She highlighted Piazzale Michelangelo, a lookout over Florence, as one of her favorite places to visit.

“Whenever we were bored, we’d just run up there because the views were always beautiful,” Wallace said.   

Wallace said the detour has made her all the more determined to return.

“I can’t leave Italy like that,” Wallace said. “I have to go back one day.”