COVID-19’s long reaching effects force MTSU exchange students to flee

Story by Delaney Johnson/Contributing Writer

“When I woke up the next day my phone was filled with messages from the other exchange students about how they had gotten an e-mail from our school in Norway asking us to come home, and I immediately freaked out. I knew that asking us to come home is not a decision to take lightly, but I was still unsure of whether I wanted to leave. When I even got an e-mail from MTSU letting us know our school in Norway required us to return as soon as possible, I booked the first flight from LA to Nashville, so I at least could be with my stuff in case I decided to go back home. Two days later I was all packed up and left to go home.”

Cecilie Iversen and Trude Knutsen are two among the thousands of international students who have been affected by COVID 19. Both were studying Music Business abroad at Middle Tennessee State University and were enjoying their spring break when their school back in Norway urged them to leave America and go home.

For Iversen and Knutsen, their study abroad at MTSU was a long-awaited trip that they had been anticipating.

Cecilie Iversen (Courtesy of Cecilie Iversen)

“I always knew I wanted a year abroad, and I was very interested in the United States,” Iversen says. “Norway, and especially the music industry, is very small, but at the same time pretty up to date with trends in the U.S, so getting some experience from a bigger market with mostly the same trends seemed perfect. Our school back in Norway has some great exchange deals with schools in the U.S., and really sold me on going to Nashville even though country music is not a genre I tend to listen to. Our exchange coordinator raved about the school and the Music Business program so after reading up a bit and looking at the options it became an easy choice.”

Trude Knutsen (Courtesy of Trude Knutsen)

Knutsen agrees. “We heard about MTSU from other students in our Music Business program and also its location near Music City. Especially for me, who also loves country music. We also learned that it is a school with a good reputation for their music program.”

When Knutsen and Iversen learned about the severity of the virus, they were in Los Angeles exploring the city for spring break.

“It was honestly such a weird turn of events,” Iversen explains. “The thing with LA and the U.S. at the time was nobody seemed to even talk about it much. Walking in LA was absurd, because on one hand the sun is shining, everyone’s out having fun, but at the same time I knew that the situation back home in Norway was getting really serious.”

“My mom, dad, brother and a friend were supposed to come visit me in Nashville in April, and my mom called me to say they would not be able to come because of the virus, literally the day before our school in Norway asked us to come home,” Cecilia says. “At first when my mom told me they would not be able to come, we had no idea I would have to leave.”

Knutsen says she didn’t want to go back home at first when she heard about the virus outbreak. “When I find out about the new situation with the virus, I didn’t rush anything. But, in just 24 hours the situation got worse. I was thinking about staying until we got a new email from home that we only had three days to get back.”

Cecilia adds how leaving has been difficult due to costly flights and student loans. “I was so sad, and I’m still not over the fact that my exchange semester was cut short. I was having such a great time, and really loved MTSU, Nashville and Murfreesboro. Leaving was also difficult because as of right now, we are not completely sure what will happen with our student loans, and I had to pay over $3000 for my plane ticket that I’m still not sure I will get back in full.”

She goes on to say MTSU faculty have been very understanding and are trying to make the best of the situation. “Luckily our professors were super accommodating and promised us before it was decided that the school would finish the semester remotely, that they would make it possible for us to complete the semester online. If that had not happened, we would probably have had to retake a whole semester back home to earn our credits.”

“It was really sad leaving Murfreesboro, but I now see that this actually is a lot more serious than I thought and that is probably was for the best,” Knutsen says. “Right now I’m home on day seven in quarantine and it really sucks.”

Knutsen continues, “My mom is happy to have me home and safe, but she also says that she thinks it’s sad that we didn’t get to finish this semester in a class room, but have to finish online in a different time zone.”

Another concern for the international students was the travel block the United States was enforcing during this time. “I think (my parents) biggest fear was me not being able to get home,” Iversen explains. “When America stopped Europeans from entering the country just a few days before we left, we were all scared that there would be no flights taking us to Norway. Also, there were updates from Norway all the time about new restrictions and layoffs, that just made it seem difficult to get home, so we were all just hoping my trip back would go smoothly. Thankfully it did.”

When asked the difference in how their home country of Norway is handling the situation differently than the United States, Knutsen replied, “In Norway everyone works from home, you can’t visit family and friends outside your county, every school is closed, the entire country is closed except grocery stores and pharmacies. Gatherings over 10 people are not allowed and if you break the quarantine rules you could be facing jail time.”

Iversen was very descriptive when explaining what her country is going through, being so close to Italy, which has had devastating results from the virus outbreak. “Norway is so close to Italy, and what’s going on there is just heartbreaking beyond anything. It’s so surreal because everything feels kind-of normal here still, but at the same time you look at a country that seems pretty comparable (Italy) and you just know how bad it can get.”

“As of right now, everyone that has travelled abroad must self-quarantine for 14 days,” Iversen continued. “The government has even gone as far as to fine people who break the quarantine $2000. All schools, pre-schools and universities are closed, and mostly only people with socially critical functions are at work. The whole country is basically shut down. People are still allowed to go outside if they keep a safe distance from others, so I’ve been on walks in the forest and stuff, which is recommended by the government.”

Iversen also commented on the amount of tests America has been conducting on its citizens. “I don’t know a lot about how the situation is handled in the U.S., but I know there is a massive testing effort over there right now. In Norway they’ve decided to only test people at risk, and the people who work in socially critical functions such as nurses, doctors, police etc. Since the whole country is basically in quarantine anyways, they’ve decided to not spend money and resources on testing everyone. As of right now people not in quarantine are allowed to do as normal, but people are staying inside, and everything is closing down.”

Lastly, she comments on the way the government handled the situation in the beginning of the pandemic.“The differences were definitely bigger in the beginning, when the U.S. did basically nothing and Europe was already pretty affected. I have a feeling, that unfortunately with more testing, the U.S. will find themselves in a much worse position than currently believed. Knowing how bad it is here, where people were informed and took measures early it’s scary to think what will happen in a country with so many international travelers and a lack of measures at the beginning.”

To contact Editor-in-Chief Angele Latham, email

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