Foreign Exchange Students

Student Exchange and COVID-19

Last Monday I was counting the days until Spring Break.

By Tuesday evening, I was emailing my University students confirmation that our class would be moving online after a 2 week hiatus in response to COVID-19 identified in our State.

On Wednesday, I read news updates, sent emails to AYA student support staff, and tried to reassure nervous exchange students and host families what I was struggling to also understand.  News broke that a specific German scholarship program decided to conclude their exchange year early and students were to be sent back home.

“Will we be sent home too?”

“I don’t know, but AYA will tell us if anything will end your program year earlier than expected”.

The announcement was made that COVID-19 patient numbers were rising in Ohio and everyone was scrambling for answers to the question, “What do we do next”?

Thursday brought the announcement that K-12 schools in our area would close until April, per our Governor’s mandate. Host families and students were confused, a bit scared, and still wondering, “what do we do next”?

Our small group of students and families were scheduled to volunteer Thursday evening for a local non-profit, so we went, volunteered, and served as each other’s support group. We shared news we had heard, and tried to wrap our heads around what our lives were going to look like for the next few weeks. Or would it be a few months?

The empty store shelves, grim statistics revealing the worst was yet to come, news of dire circumstances in Italy…. it generated anxiety, more questions, and lots of stress.

By Thursday night, I needed reassurance too.  I used Instagram to message former exchange students, now family, in Italy and Spain. They were ok they said and so were their families. Their lives were sequestered at home, waiting out the storm…but they were all healthy. We promised each other we would stay in touch, pray for each other, and sent heart emojis to express a virtual “kiss” and “hug”.

On Friday morning I woke up and scanned the news. The reality of living with COVID-19 in my community was settling in and the level of anxiety was rising. I felt a bit hopeless, overwhelmed and needed to re-focus. How could we find joy in the midst of so much stress and anxiety? And then, I realized the lesson that tragedy always teaches: Life is precious.

We can not guarantee tomorrow, but we can celebrate today. Celebrating life is one of the reasons my family got involved with student exchange. Serving as a host family allows us to savor each day of family life, because in reality we only have 10 months of moments to share with each student. A trip to the grocery store, a visit to Chipotle, introducing the joy a Target run can bring…. all of these mundane errands become fresh new experiences when shared with your exchange student. There is joy to be found in each day.

I searched online for “Daily Celebrations for March”and was directed to the award-winning website/ blog “The Spruce”. I found a list of ways to celebrate March 14-21st, opened up an email to my host families and students and created our first “Corona Currier” newsletter (title under development). I reminded them of the life lesson I remembered, that we can celebrate and bring joy to each day, and gave them a list of ideas.

Today, is March 14th (3.14) and that equals pie! So, today, as the COVID-19 storm rages on around us, and we live with the uncertainty of what will happen next, we are choosing to take a moment and choose joy. Happy Pi Day everyone!

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Throwback to March 16, 2019 when David discovered Pizza Pie- Chicago Style