There is no better place than Rome for someone studying to become a Catholic priest.
But as coronavirus took hold of the European country, Bendigo's Jackson Saunders was forced to make the decision to leave Italy and return to Australia.
He arrived back in Bendigo on Saturday and is currently in the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period.
Mr Saunders is a seminarian student priest with the Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst. He arrived in Rome last July to begin four years of study at the Gregorian University.
Last week, as the situation in Italy grew worse and more advice from the Australian government was released, Mr Saunders made the decision to come home.
"I'm grateful that I made the call to come home, it was getting harder and harder to leave," he said. "I felt it was appropriate to come home at this time.
"The situation in Italy, sadly, is worsening. The Australian government had advised all Aussies to return home and Qantas and Virgin were cutting back travel.
"I also knew my family and friends were worried and would be more worried if I stayed."
It took three flights for Mr Saunders to make it from Rome to Melbourne with stops in Frankfurt and Abu Dhabi part of his journey.
"It was fascinating. I was lucky to get home and I just made it home," he said. "When I left Rome 90 per cent of people were wearing masks including me.
"What stood out going through Frankfurt was that it felt like I was walking up my home dirt road in Marong. There was no one in sight for five minutes at one point. It seemed like I was in the airport on my own. You could see airports were shutting down.
"The flight from Germany to Abu Dhabi had 21 people on it, so I was lucky that it went ahead. Coming home to Melbourne people were anxious to get home, understandably. One couple in Rome had cut their honeymoon short and another had been to a family wedding in Ireland and were eight days into a 24 day holiday. It was a sad and unfortunate situation but we were relieved (to get home)."
Before leaving Rome, he had spent 10 days in lockdown in Rome.
"It was about a month ago that coronavirus first surfaced in Italy. It sort of appeared overnight," Mr Saunders said. "I follow the news quite closely on The Age, 3AW and the Bendigo Advertiser and they were talking about Italy all of a sudden.
"We were briefed and told to prepare. All our classes at university had been suspended and the only things open were considered essential services like supermarkets, hospitals, pharmacies and, funnily enough, tobacco shops.
"At first I made the decision to stay. I was in a good environment and well cared for, so I thought it would be okay to stay. In the last week the number (of cases) spiked and I began to feel anxious.
"Last week it hit me how serious it was but before that I hoped things would calm down and settle."
Since arriving back in Australia, Jackson has been able to compare how each country is battling the spread of COVID-19. He has also heard of positive actions people are doing to ensure everyone is able to get by.
"Italy perhaps reacted a little slowly (but) the measures Australia put in place are good," he said. "It's important Australians keep themselves safe. We should take care of each other.
"(In Italy), I was inspired by the way the Romans united with one another. Each night the locals sing on their balconies at 6pm as a sign of support and solidarity. It was uplifting to hear.
"The other day, I had a message from a friend who had been to Newstead to take groceries to people who were housebound, at St Kilian's priests celebrated Mass with no delegation but more than 400 watched online. You can sense people are united together.
"We are lucky in Australia and have lots to be grateful for. The Aussie spirit during the bushfire crisis (was amazing) and we need that as the year goes on. There are tough months ahead but if we follow the advice, we'll get through this with hope and a sense of joy in looking out for one another."
As Mr Saunders continues his self-isolation, he will continue his studies from Bendigo.
"Thankfully I am continuing my university studies online from Rome and through independent reading," he said. "I will do that for a couple months. Once out of isolation, I will go to a parish somewhere in Sandhurst.
"Originally, I was supposed to be (in Rome) for four years and was going to be home for July. The way things are looking, I doubt I'll back in Rome before July but I will just take it one day at a time."
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