International students return home

Foreign exchange student share experiences on what it was like for them to return home

Foreign exchange students who attended the last semester at Oak Park High School had to return to their home countries early due to the danger posed by COVID-19.

According to junior and foreign exchange student from Spain Judith Auba Salaet, going home was very sudden and she had one day to pack after she was told she was going to be leaving Oak Park on March 15, only having the time to say goodbye to one person.

“On Monday, I spent all day packing and finding flights and I found one for the next day on the 16th at 3 a.m. That same night I had an hour and I went to say bye to my coordinator since she was the only one that I could say goodbye to. I went to sleep at 1 a.m. and I woke up at 2 a.m. and started getting ready for this new life,” Salaet wrote to the Talon.

According to Assistant Principal Natalie Smith, there will be some changes in the program in how international students are given the option to continue at OPHS remotely and earn credits.

“International students were given the option to continue with OPHS remotely from their home country,” Smith wrote to the Talon. “If the student continues with OPHS through the end of the semester, they will earn the same amount of credits.”

OPHS Senior Laurenz Schiesser from Austria still manages to look at the bright side of his current situation, even when he was unable to do everything he wanted with his time at Oak Park.

“Well, it is a mixed feeling. I feel sad because I had to leave early and couldn’t do everything I wanted to, but on the other side I am also happy to be in my native country again and to be together with my family,” Schiesser said.

Salaet decided to continue her studies. However, she said she finds herself struggling to keep up with school work due to the time difference.

“I am nine hours away from Oak Park, and it is really hard to keep track of all my homework and due dates since when I go to sleep, it’s when you all wake up, and none of my teachers are really making it easier for me,” Salaet wrote. “Apart from that, I have to do work for my Spanish school too [for next year] so I am really busy all day.”

Schiesser is also finding the nine-hour time difference to be an obstacle in his studies.

“Sometimes I have to stay up long[er] to get work done as I get a ton of emails at around 9-10 p.m. which sometimes can be stressful when it says due tomorrow or something like that, as I sleep when you guys can work on it. But, I have to say that every single teacher is incredibl[y] nice and understanding that my situation is very different,” Schiesser wrote.

On top of all of that, Salaet is unable to leave her home and see long-missed friends due to social distancing restrictions.

“It is hard to be in my hometown again, but not be able to see all my friends because of COVID-19,” Salaet wrote.

Schiesser explains how he misses his friends and his life in the U.S. which he envisioned as what is “seen on TV”.

“I miss everything! The school because it is so different, track, my friends and family of course, I even miss some of my teachers and just the overwhelming feeling that I am finally in America and seeing all those things in real life that you always saw on TV like Hollywood, Venice Beach, Route 66, Walk of Fame, etc.,” Schiesser wrote.

Even though life at home may not be ideal, Salaet is managing to find the glass half-full,  and is happy to be back at home with her family.

“It’s been a month since I am back in Spain and honestly it feels like I only left for two days. But after all, I am happy to be with my family,” Salaet wrote.

Laurenz also looks towards the positive side of things with the help of his organization’s new system to still provide students with another opportunity for future travels.

“I can’t do another exchange year in the U.S. sadly, but my Organization EF has a program for students who came back from their exchange and they can earn points for being at info meets and just tell their stories to people who consider doing an exchange year too! I was at those info meets and knowing that is an exchange student and being able to ask questions helped me a lot and I want to help people in that situation now too. You earn points with that and all I need is 8000 points to get a flight,” Schiesser wrote.

Although these foreign exchange students’ time at OPHS was cut short, friendships and plans for the future are what really last a lifetime for many of these foreign-exchange participants.

“I am planning to come back in the future to visit one of my best friends that I made while I was there, and I am also planning on studying abroad my four college years, but I don’t know where yet,” Salaet wrote.

Schiesser expresses his love for America and how he wishes to get back as fast as he can to visit everything he is currently missing.

“I loved it so much I would have stayed forever! The minute I was in Austria I started saving money and thinking about how I can get back the fastest! I have the best American family you could wish for and found a ton of new friends! I miss everything!” Schiesser wrote.