When Katherine Erickson first heard news about coronavirus she, like many college students, didn’t expect it to upend her spring semester.  

About two weeks ago, she and other University of Pittsburgh students in her study-abroad cohort in London got an email from their school. It said they had the option to continue living there, even while the main campus moved to online courses. She and her friends decided they’d stay no matter what. 

That didn’t last long. 

Within a few days of that first message, Pitt changed course as coronavirus continued to spread across the world. The university instructed students to return home by March 23. 

Even though students had over a week to move out, their families feared that stricter travel restrictions would quickly be put in place. Many scrambled to find tickets for flights that took off within days, leaving students little time to pack up their flats. 

“That was so panicked because we thought we had a week,” Erickson said. “We made plans to do a bunch of stuff and then all of a sudden we were like ‘Oh my God we have two days.’”

On their final day in London, Erickson and most of the 200 students in the program crammed into O’Neill’s, a pub they went to each weekend. Rather than talk about scratched-out plans to ride the train to Barcelona or Budapest, they spent one last night drinking, dancing, and reminiscing on their shopping sprees, weekend trips to Paris and Amsterdam, and time being tourists in a city they grew to see as a second home. 

Before she hopped on her flight, Erickson ventured out for one last shopping excursion. She dumped around 400 pounds on clothing, souvenirs, and gifts for her family and friends. 

“I’d say it’s going big or going home,” she said, “and since we’re going home, might as well spend all of it.”