Volcanic eruption strands students, faculty in Europe

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Missy Schaff’s original plan was to fly back to Barcelona after her weekend trip to Munich last week. Instead, she spent 13 hours in a car, driving through five countries to get back in time for her Monday classes.

Schaff, a junior studying abroad in Spain, is one of thousands of travelers who have been left stranded all over Europe after Iceland’s Eyjafjallaj?kull volcano started spewing a massive cloud of ash across the sky last Wednesday, grinding air traffic to a debilitating halt. Flights were canceled amid concerns that the ash could pose a danger to jet engines and cause them to stall, The New York Times reported.

After her Sunday flight was canceled, Schaff and a friend tried to take a train back to Spain. Finding them all booked, the two settled on renting a car and ended up driving back with another couple that were also trying to get to Barcelona.

Schaff’s journey took her out of Germany, through Austria, Switzerland, France, and finally into Spain.

“It was a lot of fun and much more practical than waiting a day or two to take a bus or a train, which would have been more expensive and caused us to miss a lot more school than we did,” Schaff said in an e-mail, adding that they practiced speaking Spanish and Catalan with the couple and told stories.

“All in all, it was a surprisingly great end to a weekend trip to Munich!” Schaff said.

English professor Kathy Lawrence was in Florence over the weekend conducting research on novelist Henry James, and the ash has left her stuck in Europe during the second to last week of classes. Due to the backlog of travelers, the earliest flight back she has been able to find is this Saturday.

Lawrence said she would hold additional office hours for her students to make up for the classes she has missed this week, adding that she has been using her extra time in Florence to do more research.

“Fortunately, I have brought a few volumes of Henry James with me to read by the Arno [river],” Lawrence added.

Junior Rebecca Grad, who is currently studying abroad in Madrid, planned to go to Ireland for her last trip of the semester.

She found out her flight had been canceled once she got to the airport in Madrid, and after waiting two hours to see what her options were, she was told that there would be no flights to Dublin until April 29.

Grad said she’s glad she ended up staying in Madrid.

“There are people in my program stuck in cities across Europe who will be missing this whole week of classes right before finals,” Grad said.

Estelle Faulkner, a junior abroad in Russia, said that while her travel plans have not been affected yet, she is starting to get concerned about getting back home in May if the situation doesn’t change.

“It definitely feels a little like people are panicking, and many of the people in my study abroad program have started plotting creative ways to get home if we really cannot fly across the Atlantic,” Faulkner said, adding that she had heard possibilities of going east through Siberia and into Alaska.

“It doesn’t really seem like anyone knows anything yet though, and everyone is just waiting to see if planes can safely fly,” Faulkner said over the weekend.

Flights across Europe resumed gradually Tuesday, the New York Times reported, though air traffic over Europe was still operating at less than half its normal capacity.

Despite its inconvenience, Schaff said she views the volcanic eruption as a chance to try something new.

“A good friend of mine who studied abroad in the fall advised me never to say no to an opportunity while abroad,” Schaff said. “I haven’t yet, so why start now?”

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