Simpson student returns from study abroad, experiences COVID-19 scare


Photo submitted by Maggie Nielsen.

by Amelia Schafer, Staff reporter

As the spring study abroad trip to Tahiti was cut short, students were thrown into uncertain territory. After being stuck at LAX for several hours on March 19, sophomore Maggie Nielsen began exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

When she arrived back at her home in Nebraska, Nielsen’s temperature was over 100 degrees. 

“I got home and my parents immediately took my temperature,” Nielsen said. “My sister is a health major at Johns Hopkins so she wanted to make sure we were doing all the correct steps. I had a temperature of over 100 degrees and a cough, but I have asthma so that’s normal. We wanted to double-check my temp and make sure it wasn’t just from me going from a hot and humid island to Nebraska.”

After a while, Nielsen developed a migraine that made it impossible for her to even FaceTime her family. 

The only symptom of COVD-19 that she didn’t experience was shortness of breath, causing her to be ineligible for testing. 

COVID-19 testing differs by location.

“The more respiratory symptoms with fever is what they were looking for. I did have a virtual doctor’s appointment and the health department called me every day and took my temperature so I was being monitored, I just didn’t receive a test,” Nielsen said.

Unfortunately, Nielsen’s symptoms weren’t the most stressful thing she experienced while leaving Tahiti. 

“We found out that the University of French Polynesia was shutting down and that Tahiti was starting to close its borders, so it was decided that we would leave for the United States. We were only given a 48-hour notice.”

Simpson helped her schedule flights back to Nebraska, but due to weather and flight cancellations, Nielsen was stuck in LAX for hours before being re-routed to Phoenix.

“There was no one at LAX, neither of the planes I took was full and LAX felt deserted,” Nielsen said. “I’ve flown out of some very small airports in Nebraska, but they’ve never been that empty which was terrifying.”

As for the rest of her studies from home, things are uncertain. 

“Being in the United States now, we still have to finish out the program, which is difficult because Tahitian WiFi is unstable and we don’t have our french teacher with us,” she said. “So we have to teach ourselves some of the principles of french.”

“One of our teachers is stuck in a different territory so we don’t know what’s happening with that class at all. It is incredibly chaotic, but we are going to finish our courses by the end of April.”

Despite all of the hardships and stress she endured, Nielsen’s french is stronger than ever and she’s come away from her study abroad trip with more good memories than bad. 

“My french has improved but I wouldn’t call myself fluent,” Nielsen said. “If you dropped me in the middle of France, I wouldn’t survive, but from being forced to speak french it’s definitely improved. I took a Chinese class in Tahiti and having to learn Chinese in french really helped both languages, because I had to fully understand what was happening in french in order to understand what was happening in Chinese.”

In terms of her illness, she is now symptom-free and reunited with her family. She also now has a few tips for staying sane in quarantine.

“Do things that make you happy. If you like art, make art. If you like music, listen to music. Just keeping those things that keep you sane normally are the most helpful things you can do. And don’t forget to talk to people.”