Grace Watson

Bologna, Italy

Hi, I’m Grace Watson and I’ve been living in a small town just outside of Bologna, Italy, since February 2019. I completed a Bachelor of Biomedicine at Monash and now I’m studying Medicine and Surgery at the University of Bologna.

On 23rd February I wrote this to my family in my blog …”I cannot fathom the idea that I’ve been living my absolute childhood dream for exactly one year now. The time has absolutely flown past. I have so many things to reflect upon. Some regrets, some things I wish I'd done differently, many things I wish I'd have known first, but above all, many, many amazing, beautiful memories that I will cherish forever.”

On the 24th February we got news the situation concerning COVID-19 was worsening, and all schools and universities in the north of Italy would be closing for some weeks. But the situation continued to worsen in the region of Lombardy. The virus then spread and hot spots appeared in the regions of Veneto and Emilia Romagna (where I’m living). The government closed all non-essential activities, such as sports, schools, universities, clubs. But the virus was quickly spreading to other towns all over the north of Italy.

A decree was then introduced whereby the region of Lombardy and many towns in Emilia Romagna (Piacenza, Rimini, Parma, Modena) were placed into a strict quarantine. This caused a lot of panic, and many people tried to leave to be with their relatives in other parts of Italy. The government then decided it was best to widen this quarantine to the whole of Italy.

During the first week of quarantine, most people could still go to work, restaurants could offer takeaway services and delivery, but all shops, bars, and non-essential workplaces were forced to close. People could only leave their houses to do the food shopping or for health reasons (to see the doctor or pharmacy), but could still go jogging alone or walk their dogs close to their houses. It was a frightening time because no one really knew what would happen in the weeks to come.

The government recently revised the quarantine and it has become even stricter. All non-essential workplaces are closed, including many factories, and you can’t leave your house for any reason apart from doing the food shopping or going to the pharmacy. You cannot even leave to walk your dog. If you do leave your house, you have to bring a special auto-certification with you, dated and signed, which states the reason you are leaving your house.

The only establishments now open are supermarkets, pharmacies, hospitals, and some factories. However, there has been a great show of community connectedness despite the distance, with many people finding ways to bring positivity to the situation. I’m studying all my classes online, and occupy the rest of my time studying, reading, cooking (I’m in Italy, after all!), painting, and playing with my dog Nala. I’m lucky to live in the countryside in Castle San Pietro Terme with my partner’s parents where we have a big garden, and a huge empty field next to our house, where we can walk our dog and go running.

Although the situation for now is a big question mark, and we don’t know when things will go back to normal, we are staying positive! I have much more time to study, and we complete all of our lessons online, so I’m not spending 2 hours a day travelling to and from Bologna to get to my classes. I’m a bit nervous about doing my end of semester exams however, because they will be via a Skype call, and will be completed orally! I’ve never done an oral exam before, but it’s very common in Italy. So that is also motivating me to study a lot!

I’m currently planning my next trip back to Australia for Christmas and focusing on my studies.

Photo: My Golden Retriever Nala and I.