Two 18-year-old Kiwi women on a gap year told Metronews about the emotional rollercoaster they experienced having to give up their travels, and their mission to get home amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
Sophie Mephan, a Mapua resident based in Poland, said it was hard to make the decision to come home as she previously felt she could handle a few months in lockdown, but after a week in isolation and advice from family in NZ, she decided to return home.
"I hated having to make the decision to go home and was so on the fence about staying or going. It was the decision that was haunting me, not the threat of being stuck in Poland."
Mephan said she was lucky she was warned about the potential closure of many European borders by her school mentor, outside of the northern Polish city of Gdansk, a few days after the school she was volunteering at closed.
"None of the other volunteers had received the advice we had, from neither their schools nor Lattitude, but a week later we were all offered by Lattitude the chance to leave."
Lattitude is an international youth development charity with a mission to educate young people through opportunities to volunteer abroad.
Mephan said while it was great the organisation offered her flights from London to New Zealand, she had to organise her own transport from Poland to the UK.
"We were originally all supposed to be flying out of Warsaw to London that day after making the decision to leave, however, we woke that morning, only a few hours before our train was due to leave, to discover the flight had been cancelled."
Mephan said she and the other volunteers were eventually able to get flights to London, even though some of her friends had to pay for business class tickets which cost the same amount as an economy class ticket from London to New Zealand.
Mephan's mother from Mapua, Justine Millar, said the family was so pleased to have the support of the travel agent and Lattitude as she said the organisation made the process much easier and cheaper.
Millar said it was upsetting to hear stories of some of the others who tried to organise their flights on their own, costing them significantly more.