The Castle of Bellaguardia sits atop a hill in northeastern Italy, overlooking the small town of Montecchio Maggiore. The town served as the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette and the towers of the fortress are aptly named after the titular characters. Once a year, the town of 12,000 gathers in the town square, dresses in medieval garb, and marches up to the castle to pay homage to one of literature’s greatest works.

Now, residents of the town can only march 200 meters beyond their front yard. They need approval from the Italian government—an auto certificazione—to go further. Failure to produce a certificate to authorities can lead to fines or a jail sentence.

One of the residents is freshman Nicolo Mancin. Mancin is a 6 feet 3 inches tall, slender 20-year old who plays volleyball for Barton College and one of the many international students who was faced with a difficult decision: to stay in Wilson to tough out the COVID-19 outbreak, or to return home to a nation devastated by the viral pandemic.

Mancin’s flight was on March 27.


Mancin’s original scheduled flight was set for March 20. When Mancin arrived at Raleigh-Durham International, he was expecting a flight to Toronto that would start a game of intercontinental pinball. From Toronto, he would fly to Frankfurt, Germany, and from Frankfurt to Milan.

There was no one at the Air Canada kiosk. There was no one in the terminal, either. He asked an airport official where everyone was.

“They said that the flight had been canceled so they sent everyone home,” he said. “I checked my flight a few hours before—it was still scheduled to arrive.”

Luckily for Mancin, a friend came and picked him up, drove him back to Wilson. His flight was rescheduled for the following week, during which he reflected on the men’s volleyball team’s lost season.

The Bulldogs were on a torrent pace, earning nine consecutive victories when Conference Carolinas ceased all operations due to the coronavirus outbreak. They finished the season 13-2 with a perfect conference record (8-0) and, as Mancin said, the sky was the limit.

“Everything that was happening was out of my control,” he said. “But it was a bitter pill to swallow. We had a lot of potential this year. I was really curious to see how the season would’ve ended—when we faced teams like Loyola and Harvard, we didn’t always win. But we showed we’re at that level—it would’ve been a great second half to the season.”

Mancin didn’t linger on the lost season. His next point of focus turned to packing for the trip, knowing full-well he wouldn’t be able to bring everything.

“I’m just gonna bring two bags, one big and one small—there’s no point in getting an extra fee for baggage,” he said. “In terms of clothes, I’m thinking about the summer—hopefully, I’ll have some fun and be able to come back to Barton in the fall. I’m packing swimming suits, tee-shirts…I’m leaving anything that goes past my knees or my forearms.”

After China, Italy quickly became the epicenter for COVID-19. The situation spiraled out of control. Elderly citizens were refused treatment in an effort to triage the most-likely to survive. Citizens were confined to their homes. The rivulets of Venice were unoccupied with boats. Everything that was once natural about the beauty of Italy became unnatural.

Mancin was still determined to return.

“Coming to Barton was my first time away from home,” he said. “I’ve never been away from my family for an extended period of time like this—it’s been eight months since I’ve seen them. In a situation like this, there’s a lot of uncertainty. You don’t know what’s gonna happen, who’s gonna be quarantined. My only thought is being with my family and being home.”

There’s no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Montecchio Maggiore, but the effects have been felt.

Mancin’s parents are factory workers and considered to be essential. He said their work hasn’t been interrupted, but his brother’s has come to a screeching halt. Manuel is an entrepreneur, interior designer, social media manager, and a photographer; he’s had no work since Italy’s shutdown.

Manuel will be the one picking him up from the airport in Milan. Due to enforced social distancing laws, Mancin can’t sit in the front-seat. He has to sit in the backseat and wear a mask and also has to have the auto certificazione with him at all times.

It’s not a matter of if they are stopped by authorities, it’s a matter of when.

Once he’s home, Mancin will quarantine himself for two weeks per the government’s order, unable to leave his house for any reason.

Even still, Mancin refuses to waver.

“The risk of getting infected is everywhere,” he said. “Obviously, my home is one of the worst places to go, but I don’t care. I just want to see my family again.”