Notre Dame students on campus may not have felt the effects of the volcanic eruption in Iceland over the past week, but the same cannot be said for those abroad.
“Frustrating, confusing, spontaneous,” junior Claire Brosnihan said when asked to describe her time in Europe since the eruption. “This is my spring break, so I was planning on going from Munich to Istanbul, then Athens, then Santorini, then Paris.”
Yet with the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull those plans never worked out.
Currently studying in Notre Dame’s Angers Program, Brosnihan is one of many Notre Dame students abroad who have found difficulty traveling over the past week due to the volcano.
“I’ve been stuck in Munich for three days,” Brosnihan said.
After all flights in Munich Airport were cancelled, Brosnihan said she was unable to get a refund for two of her flights and spent hours trying to find a way to make it to Istanbul without flying, though she realized it would be impossible. Now she plans instead to make her way to Switzerland and then somehow be back in France by Sunday, though hotels along the way are almost all booked.
“This has been the strangest week of my life,” she said.
Junior Mike Rooney, studying in Dublin, also had plans to travel over the weekend, but found out moments before boarding his plane to Prague that all flights had been grounded due to ash in the air.
“It actually kind of disturbs me that Ryanair decided to cancel our flight at the last possible minute,” Rooney said. “We were seriously in line to get on the plane almost three hours after the eruption.”
Junior Sean Bennett was traveling with Rooney and said that on the bright side, they were able to get refunded for the round-trip flight.
“Ryanair was actually really helpful,” Bennett said, though also adding it is now doubtful whether his parents will be able to visit him this week, which he said was frustrating.
“They’ve been planning this trip since December,” he said.
Katrina Corcoran, another junior in the Angers Program said she had hoped to travel to London.
“My fiancé … had grown up in London,” she said. “[He] was going to show me around.”
With cancelled flights, however, Corcoran said she was stranded in Rome. Luckily, she said, she found a place to stay with her friend studying in Rome and was finally able to buy a train ticket to France after waiting in line for hours.
“After over 24 hours of travel by train I will return to Angers on Friday morning, and with a significantly smaller bank account,” Corcoran said.
With all the cancelled flights and booked bus or train tickets, students said they have had to improvise as they work out their broken plans. Brosnihan said she planned on couch surfing — networking with people online for places to stay — rather than using a hostel or hotel.
“[This week] forced me to be more adventurous with my trip, seeing where I can go without any flights and while being broke,” she said.
Junior Justine Murnane, studying in France, said she also tried unconventional ways to make it back from being stranded in Prague.
“The only way I could get out of Prague was an overnight bus to London,” Murnane said. “I ended up hopping off just before we went into the channel and found my way to a nearby train station to get to Paris.”
Although her train to Paris was operational, she mentioned that, while airports across Europe had closed down, the French train system also went on strike in the midst of it all.
Despite the difficulties, students nonetheless found a way to remain positive while abroad.
“I have a pretty ridiculous story for why I didn’t visit some of the cities,” Rooney said in regard to the volcanic eruption. “If our flight hadn’t been cancelled then I would have been stuck in Prague … wait … I guess that would have been a good thing.”
Corcoran also said being stranded in Rome was not all bad, considering she was able to attend Mass in the chapel behind St. Peter’s grave.
“That was a once-in-a-lifetime and very moving experience,” she said.
Murnane said that despite missing out on meeting up with her mom in Paris, she managed to meet three other Notre Dame students and made some “lasting relationships with a few middle-aged Brits.”
“I have a newfound appreciation for ground travel,” she said.