On March 19th, 2020, five remaining students and three staff returned safely to the United States as a safety measure regarding COVID-19 and the continued news reports of borders shutting down.
The country of Portugal was in the process of announcing a state of emergency based on what was already happening in Italy, France, and Spain. At the same time, the United States raised its travel advisory from a level 3 to a level 4.
Discussions with parents, professionals, and Pacia Life focused around if it was best to stay put and ride it out or if it the better decision was to get students and staff from the United States back home. The initial decision was that it was safer just to stay put and not be exposed to airport travel. However, as information about border closings in both Portugal and the United States evolved, further recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Center For Disease Control (CDC) became available and additional insights from other GAP year programs started to be shared, new questions around safety not only with COVID-19 but also with mental health of our students lead us to a different decision.
While we also have a bit of positive insight from our internal networks in other countries in China, Israel, Italy, and beyond, we also can't definitively answer some of the hardest questions about how long this will last. Is keeping my child secured in a house and not letting them go for a walk good for their mental health, etc.? In addition, we also consulted and watched decisions being made by other domestic and international programs that were dependent upon airlines to move students to and from their locations.
A quick decision was made to return all students and staff to their home countries.
Some additional information
All students and staff have returned to their homes or other Pacia Life locations in the United States.
Special housing was arranged immediately for students and staff who returned to other Pacia Life locations to maintain the integrity and safety of current students in those locations. We are grateful to the teams in both Boston and Salt Lake City for securing additional housing, furniture, and food for unexpected staff and students in a record 24-hour turnaround.
Students and staff who were in Portugal were instructed to go under COVID-19 safety guidelines on March 5th. Then the second set of heightened protocols was implemented on March 13th.
We are saddened to report that In the final hours of students and staff packing and preparing for departure, one of our local Portuguese staff did create additional stress by walking into the Pacia property and taking three student passports out of the hands of one of our residential staff in the hope of keeping students in Portugal for his own financial security.
Staff (and some parents) immediately called the police and the U.S. embassy emergency number. Instead of students and staff spending a final night in their beautiful Portugal home, they were moved to the Intercontinental Hotel near the airport in preparation for their Friday morning flight.
In conjunction with the U.S. Embassy, a backup plan was created to keep two male coaches with the three male students to get new passports and take a later flight. Thankfully, the backup plan was not needed.
We are very grateful that the passports were returned in the morning, so the three affected students made their originally scheduled flight, along with all other staff and students.
While this action was inappropriate and considered criminal in every way, we also feel it is important to share that this staff member has been a very positive part of our Portuguese team and has blessed the lives of many students in the past. Several of our employees have sent their own children to Portugal for this amazing experience and have had nothing but the very best to report until recently.
While this additional stress was unnecessary, we are grateful that all students and staff are home safe, and very appreciative that another one of our Portuguese staff was instrumental in getting the passports returned.
All students, regardless if they returned home or if they joined one of our stateside Pacia Life locations, are invited to continue all clinical, life coaching, academic, career, and remote services to stay focused on their personal Tatori process.
We look forward to revisiting the possibility of continuing Pacia Life in Europe and international GAP locations in the future.
We thank the Salt Lake City and Boston locations for the quick response to create new or specialized housing that follows COVID-19 safety protocols to receive new students and staff that transferred from Europe with little notice.
Each Pacia Life location is independently owned and operated.