Being An Exchange Student During A Global Pandemic

For the most part, all of the families in the Plainwell High School community has been affected by Covid-19. However, some people not a lot of other people have thought about when it comes to being affected by corona is the foreign exchange students.

You may have never heard of me. I’m Flora and an exchange student from Germany. I’ve been here since August, around 5 months. 

For the most part, all of the families in the Plainwell High school community has been affected by Covid-19. However, some people not a lot of other people have thought about when it comes to being affected by corona is the foreign exchange students. Maybe it surprises you that some exchange students are even here. Last school year, all of them, except one, got sent home. A lot of people were not expecting any exchange students to return. I would have never expected that I’d be coming to Michigan after what had started last year, but I did and this journey has been a roller coaster.

This year wasn’t how the most expected it to be. My expectations were slightly different. I thought I would have a normal gap year. Going to football games, homecoming, prom, and just even going to school. When the first wave hit Europe and America around March and April, most of us thought the pandemic would be gone by September. A lot of people were so hopeful to go back to normal. A very funny coincidence happened. I got my host family on the same day we had the first lockdown. Of course, I was extremely happy to get them so early and I thought everything would be good, (little did I know).

 But then, all exchange students who were already in America had to go home. I could not imagine how that would feel! Everyone who was in a different country had to go home. It shocked me, as well as a lot of other people. We had an infamous exchange student here in PHS.

 Melissa Palmeira came here in February and stayed until December. She is currently enjoying the sun in Brazil. She is friendly and open-minded girl who loves to hang out with friends and spend time with her family. She was able to stay here because she had no organization, Palmeira was here completely privately. But it wasn’t always easy. 

She had two school weeks before the first lockdown and some time left over from the first trimester. It was extremely difficult to make friends for her and especially over the summer break. And it wasn’t better for her after the break, either. Palmeira had to go back to online school, which was really frustrating for her and mentally challenging.“ Even though the year 2020 was challenging for most, I still had the best time of my life, and I met people I’ll never forget about. Being an exchange student is totally worth the stress, but I still wish things would get better for the other ones by the time they leave,” said Palmeira summarizing her 11 months in Plainwell. It’s incredible how positive she is and that she doesn’t regret this year. Not everyone is able to do this. 

So back to my journey to the town Plainwell in Michigan! The pandemic became more serious than I thought it would. But I was still thinking and hoping that it would change. But the situation became more serious. There’s a lot of questions I still have that a lot of other foreign exchange students may also have. 

Can I get a visa? Will America still let me in? Should I even go to America? All these questions bothering me for three months straight. I can tell you, it is very exhausting. 

However, then I got the message “You can come to America!” I was in a shopping mall at this moment, it was so hard not to freak out. At this time I had 12 days before leaving. From not going at all to ‘leaving in 12 days’, here in one moment. 

My flight here was very interesting. The emotions I had were intense. Besides that, I had to wear a mask all the time, besides when I was eating. On the plane, there were free seats between every person. Luckily for me, I had a seat at the window and I had a gorgeous view. I was on the road for 24 hours with only 4 hours of sleep. I was so happy when I finally arrived here. 

To understand it a little bit more, all the stress and expectations I have were high. I started thinking about a gap year three years ago. I know that is a long time. But I always had a dream about this. Then the real work started a year and a half ago. First, deciding on an organization, which was not easy. And all the paperwork! That’s so much work but I have very supportive parents who helped me a lot. There is a lot of work behind me now, but it’s hard to work towards something that is not turning out how you wanted it to. 

Now I’m here, which is really good, but it’s not the best. We all are struggling with online school and other things like financial shortages. And one of the biggest supports, for most people, are our friends and family. But as an exchange student, a lot of us don’t have friends or any contacts yet. Also, you have to get to know your family. This is always a lot of struggle and something completely new.

When I came, I had hoped that we would have normal school soon but then the pandemic got worse and worse. The few days we had in person were so cool. I finally had the possibility to meet people and finally be around humans. But then getting told that we’re going back online for a complete trimester. It took away my hope again for the, what it seems like, hundredth time this year. 

So, you can see, being an exchange student is never easy, especially during a global pandemic. But that is mostly the only time for students to do a gap year. 

It can be frustrating and disappointing but we have to make the best out of it. Not only exchange students, everyone! Here is a little tip to make someone’s day better. If you know an exchange student, try to talk with them. A simple but effective idea!