This past spring semester was supposed to be a life-changing experience in Italy for Charlestown’s Maeve Fittz, and in many ways it was, but in no way that she or her family could have ever predicted.
Fittz left Charlestown in late January as a junior at Endicott College to study abroad in Florence, Italy, for a semester at the University of the Arts in Florence. For the nursing student, it was a great break and an experience she thought she would never get again.
In short, it was.
About 30 days into the venture, things in Italy started to get a little out of control as COVID-19 began to spread in the Milan and Venice areas. She tried to stick it out, she said, but eventually the school closed down and it was a total rush to get back to America.
Once here, after a quarantine period where things in Boston began to also spiral, she traded her paint brush for her nursing internship at Spaulding Rehab in the Navy Yard – where she worked though part of the pandemic and is currently on a summer internship there as well.
“I was in Florence and it was only China that was affected,” she said. “We heard about it a little and then heard that it had hit Milan. It wasn’t that close to us, but close enough for concern. Our headmaster gave us the option to go home. We decided we wanted to stay to the very last second…Finally, they made it mandatory for us to come home because they shut down all the schools in Italy. We had two days to pack and leave. It was amazing to see Florence empty. That hadn’t happened in years.”
Fittz returned home on March 7, about a week before everyone in Boston began to realize the pandemic was about to get serious here too. She said she thought she had been sick in Italy earlier during the semester, but wasn’t sure so she quarantined at home with her mother, Julie, who works at RSM in City Square.
“My mom was very happy I came home, but was worried she could get sick because I could have been sick over there,” said Fittz. “I actually went to Venice at one point and two days later they said Venice was a hot spot. Quite honestly, we were all really sick for a week, but we had no idea if it was COVID-19.”
She said they did a lot of housework, monitored symptoms and took it easy as she continued to try to do her studies online – though said it was kind of hard to do watercolor remotely online.
It was about that time that things in Boston began to shut down and people began to realize the seriousness of COVID that Fittz had already witnessed in Italy.
“When I got back, everyone was still operating as normal for about a week or so,” she said. “Then everything shut down here too. I knew it as serious, but I didn’t think it would be as serious here as it turned out to be. We were supposed to go to a wedding in May and I didn’t think that would be cancelled, but of course, it was.”
After being cleared of her quarantine, and with a great need for medical help in Boston at that point, Fittz said she reported to work at Spaulding.
“I went straight to work as fast as I could,” she said. “I love my job as a nursing assistant and love that I can work in my neighborhood.”
She continued working there through the pandemic, and said she plans to work a summer internship at Portsmouth Hospital in the Emergency Department also. In the fall, she hopes to be able to return to Endicott for her final year of nursing school. That is still up in the air, but most schools are now considering a return to campus.
Fittz, 20, has spent her entire life in Charlestown and is well-known in all of the organizations here. She attended the Warren Prescott, played Charlestown Soccer, Charlestown Hockey, Charlestown Lacrosse, Girls Softball, and even swam at the Boys & Girls Club. After attending the John D. O’Bryant School for Math and Science – an exam school in Mission Hill – she decided to pursue her nursing degree at Endicott. Even with the disruption in her study abroad, and the hasty exit from Europe in a very unprecedented time, Fittz said she does recommend in the future that students consider going abroad for a new and different experience.