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  • Leanne W. Smith

the nature of dimes and viruses

I love to teach, in part, because I love to learn. Here’s the most recent thing I’ve learned: the Dutch have a phrase that means, “It’s a dime on its edge.” Small coin. Hard to balance. No way to predict which way it might fall. I learned this phrase when the American saying, “Life turns on a dime,” popped into my head as a potential title for this week’s blog post, and after I consulted Google to verify what I thought I knew about that phrase. Why am I thinking of life turning on a dime? Because life has turned on a dime. Or been set on its edge, if you prefer the Dutch saying. Since my last blog post the coronavirus has come to Italy. I work on my blogs all week before releasing them on Sunday. When last I blogged I didn’t know this virus had made its unwelcome way into the country. Then life became a dime on its edge. The news broke a week ago Friday. We called our independently traveling students home. One of the big draws of study abroad in Europe is the opportunity for students to travel to neighboring cities and countries each weekend. We watched as Italy rose to the headlines. By Monday the foot traffic at tourist spots in Florence swelled. Perhaps folks avoiding Milan and Venice were rerouting.


By Tuesday, news that someone in Florence tested positive. Hours-long phone calls. Monitoring news stories. Late night meetings. Other university programs making the decision to send their students home to the States. Tuesday night we were told we wouldn’t be sent home. Wednesday morning we were told we might want to pack. We hung for a day in the crook of a question mark, faces growing longer, disappointment getting its licks in. Limbo is one of the hardest parts of an evolving crisis. Then Wednesday night the news that we were being sent to a sister program in Vienna…for a time…to see which way the dime might fall. By the time this post is released we will have gone through our second orientation in a new city. Money has been lost on itineraries that will go unfilled, tickets unused. Who knows the fate of the rosemary and basil I’d so proudly purchased and set on my window sill in the Villa. But I’m proud to report the Florence team is holding its collective chin up. We’re facing this curveball together. Gratitude is keeping us on the sweet side of bitter. We’re so grateful to be part of a university family working hard to salvage this experience for us. Grateful for the sister program in Austria, graciously making their own adjustments to welcome us in. Grateful to have had a month in Florence, to the staff at Rimani’s who kept us in cappuccinos and pastries, grateful for one last walk along the Arno, and for sun shining brightly following a night of rain. I wish you could hear the students—this moment as I pen these thoughts—their laughter bubbling up the same as always, as it has from the first day we arrived. They are a talkative bunch, for the most part. Even Symphony, the quietest among us (I know…the irony), is over there smiling with Spencer and Hannah, asking them in Italian, “Who is your favorite film star?” We are in our classroom. I wonder if today will be the last day we gather here. Hannah knows to move the shutter just right as the sun comes in the window, to take the glare off the board. The heavy chairs scraping along the tile floors have become a familiar, almost comforting sound to me downstairs. This is where Caleb eats his bowl of granola and cut bananas in the mornings, for Brynn it’s fruit granola that smells of strawberries. This is where Spencer’s aluminum water bottle gets kicked over with a loud clang. Actually…that happens to Spencer’s water bottle everywhere. I feel a heart twinge in wondering if we’ll come back here, or if the virus will continue to expand, eventually driving us elsewhere. The students amaze me with their resilience, their exuberance, their decision to take the lemons being handed them and make lemoncello. I feel God’s presence in the room with us. He is holding out grace amidst the challenge. Now we’re in the airport waiting to board the plane. Our bags have been weighed and we’re not worrying about the overages. One last order of aqua. Tomorrow it will be wasser. And while we may not know when or how this semester abroad might turn on a dime again, we know we have a cheering section praying us forward. And He’s watching over us…as always. Leanne

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