Updated: Aug 3, 2021
I still have to pinch myself. I wake up with a start, then look around to find that I'm in my own bed in my home. The journey to arrive here has been immense. It began last year, as the first wave of COVID-19 crashed through Northern Italy.
On March 9th, 2020 our group left Italy, and we caught what was the last-but-one flight out of Rome. I recall, as we collected our luggage at Heathrow, saying to everyone 'See you next year!' in the complete confidence that the world would have managed to overcome the virus by then. As we know, that was not to happen, and our plans to launch the 2021 course in London in January were knocked back. Plan A, Plan B, Plan C came and went. May to July, July to August...Each time we would contact students and parents, hotels, lecturers and suppliers in Italy and London to rearrange plans and dates. Throughout all of this we were solidly supported by our brilliant team. If some lecturers couldn't come they would suggest replacements, some students had to drop out as their other commitments made the Italian journey impossible.
Then, a break in the clouds, a window of opportunity opened up, and we leaped into action. The group started to arrive over the weekend of June 12th and the John Hall Pre-University Course in Venice started running.
The virus was/is still around and we urged the students to follow regulations, to sanitise, wear masks, take tests if required, and essentially to create their own social 'bubble'.
With the Venice part of the course completed we headed down to Florence and on that first Sunday we stood in Piazza della Signoria, on the very spot where I had announced to last year's group, that we had to leave Italy.
The virus was still stalking us. One single infection in our group would mean that ALL of the group would be compromised,
But we stayed organised and watchful, and evaded the virus and soon were on our bus heading for Rome.
Six incredible days, in which we joined by another two from the 2020 group who hadn't been able to get to Florence, and then we were up in Tivoli for our final lunch, speeches and tears, and incredible relief, as back in Rome that afternoon, the entire group tested negative for the final time, and we all collected our 'Fit to Fly' documents and celebrated.
It has been quite extraordinary. I am used to Italy in summer, our 'stuffy' education centre in Venice has superb air-conditioning, which provided an extra incentive to attend classes. We've moved hotels and are now based in the delightful Hotel Pausania, a mere block away from where we hold our lectures, and, more importantly, 30 seconds walk away from Campo Santa Margherita, the social hub of the city!
This entire story would not have been possible without the combined efforts and sheer force of will from students and parents, from our team, in London and Venice, from our fantastic lecturers, from everyone involved.
Thank you all!