By DENISE SEYFER
Dr. Mary Ellen Kohn-Buday, director of international studies at Mount Mary College and Spanish professor, wanted to spend a week getting her students acclimated to a new country. Instead, life took hold.
Kohn-Buday and eight Mount Mary students flew to Spain to study abroad this past summer. The agenda gave them three days in Barcelona and about a month in Madrid for classes, studying and cultural immersion. The students attended information sessions in preparation for the trip. But how could anyone be prepared for heart problems?
“I had a sense that something would happen,” Kohn-Buday said. “On the first day, I started having chest pains. I reasoned that I was tired from traveling. But, on the second day, I felt the same. I thought maybe it was indigestion.”
On the third day, Dr. Kohn-Buday and seven students hiked to a park. According to Kohn-Buday, she didn’t feel well during the hike. She could barely walk a half block because it was very hilly.
The group kept on walking and stopped at the park so Kohn-Buday could recover. Then they hiked back, jumped on the bus and headed back to the hotel.
Meanwhile, Kohn-Buday walked to the nearest pharmacy and took an aspirin in case her symptoms might be heart-related. She asked someone to take her blood pressure. It seemed high to her, so the pharmacy sent her to a walk-in clinic.
“Normally in the U.S. if you complain about chest pains, they rush you in,” Kohn-Buday said. “They sent me to the waiting room.”
Angie Moore, an American friend of Kohn-Buday’s living in Barcelona who went on the hike as well, returned to the hotel after escorting Kohn-Buday to the clinic. She met with the students and explained Kohn-Buday’s situation.
Classes were about to begin, however, and the group needed to meet the International Studies Abroad liaisons in Madrid.
“We had to catch our train to Madrid without [Kohn-Buday and Moore],” said Tiyara Townsend, a Spanish and psychology major.
“I was more afraid for her than myself,” said Alma Ramirez, an international studies and Spanish major at Mount Mary. “We had no idea how she’d be.”
The students were able to pull themselves together. They devised a plan and decided not to take a taxi to the station, figuring a taxi would be too difficult to take with all their luggage and far too expensive. Instead they yanked out their maps, located the train station and hauled all their belongings onto the train headed for Madrid.
“Anybody would have stepped up,” Townsend said, considering the circumstances.
It was nearing 10 p.m. when they got to the station — not the safest time for foreign girls to travel to Madrid. Mostly older men filled the Metro. The students crammed themselves and their baggage into two tiny cabins. Their luggage was piled in the center of the floor, while they scrunched into the outer seats.
“I was nervous and tired,” Ramirez said. “One cabin of girls tried to sleep. No one in my cabin could. We talked and really got to know one another. It made our friendships stronger.”
Meanwhile, Kohn-Buday spoke with doctors about her symptoms. She learned she would need another stent implanted.
The students arrived in Madrid as planned 11 hours later. They exhaled, proud they could take care of themselves in a foreign country.
Kohn-Buday, who was concerned about her students, met them in Madrid after being released from the hospital. According to Kohn-Buday, she felt proud and was impressed by how well they cooperated during the ordeal.
“Mount Mary leadership is true,” Kohn-Buday said. “They are leaders.”