Teenager’s epic journey home from France during pandemic
JESS Harland was fresh out of school when she embarked on the trip of a lifetime, but she had many hurdles to jump in order to return home.
The now 18-year-old was keen to experience life overseas, and was lucky to get her first preference of France for her Rotary youth exchange.
Miss Harland embarked on her journey on January 17, 2020, not knowing the challenges ahead of her.
“The first thing that happened to me when I landed was they spoke English to me,” she said.
But it wasn’t long before she was in crowds of strangers who only spoke French.
“My brain is obviously set to English, so when I’m over there, I just heard French, it’s just so weird,” Miss Harland said.
“So it took me a little while to remember all the strangers want to speak French to me.”
The food in France amazed her, particularly the bread.
“My favourite is the brioche,” she said.
She also enjoyed discovering the historic architecture and the unique atmosphere the European country had to offer.
Miss Harland travelled from host family to host family, through both towns and cities.
She was lucky to see many parts of the diverse countryside before COVID-19 broke out.
Australia closed its borders to the world and commercial flights were significantly reduced.
In France, social distancing measures were strict and people were only allowed to travel one kilometre from their homes.
The restrictions lifted after 54 days, when people were given a bit more freedom to travel around.
While Miss Harland was based in a smaller town at the time, which was relatively safe from the virus, she had to think about how to get home to Roma.
“Originally, I had a flight booked in January (2021), then I got told I needed to get sent home by Rotary, because it became clear the second wave was coming,” she said.
Rotary found a flight for her to return on in November, but it was cancelled.
Miss Harland then contacted the Australian Embassy, and pleaded with them to put her on the next available flight.
Luckily she was given a new flight from her insurance company the next day and they told her she had 48 hours to get to Frankfurt, Germany in order to get out by October 11.
“My (host) family drove me to the Lyon airport,” Miss Harland said.
“Luckily I could get a flight before, because flights they have there are pretty strict.”
Despite issues with her card at the airport, Miss Harland was let through with her luggage.
She said airline staff were very understanding about the stress the pandemic had put on passengers.
She flew from Lyon to Frankfurt, then stopped over at Singapore.
“I got on the flight with Singapore Airlines – you have to have the COVID tests, with the results written in English,” she said.
She saw a man who wasn’t able to board because his COVID-19 test was written in French.
Miss Harland was fortunate to have a cozy flight from Singapore to Perth in premium economy, right in the middle of the aisle, with nobody else in the section.
“It was very social distanced,” she said.
When she arrived at Perth, she was forced to quarantine for 14 days before going anywhere else.
Miss Harland said she was relieved when she finally landed in Brisbane, before the final six-hour drive west to Roma.
She said after the lengthy flights and time spent scrambling for safety in France, the trip from Brisbane to Roma felt quicker than usual.
Now at home, she is relieved all the stress is over and is enjoying the chance to relax.
After seeing some unique places overseas, Miss Harland was able to reflect on what made Roma different to anywhere else in the world.
Definitely the landscape, that’s one thing,” she said.
“It’s a small town, you feel a lot safer in a small town than in the big cities.
“I feel a lot more laid-back in Roma.”
While she would like to do more travelling around Europe in the future, particularly to see friends in Belgium and Italy, she wants to take little break from travelling first, until COVID-19 is over.