Here, there, everywhere

Former (and recent) exchange students reveal how their home countries have been combating the global COVID-19 pandemic.

By Emma Conway, Lauren Ritz, Amelia Qualey, Ali Larson, and Jessica Baszuro

Mikko Heinäsuo, Finland

Originally from Finland, Heinäsuo enjoyed the short time he had in the U.S. before the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted his exchange.

Emma Conway
Heinäsuo stayed with his grandparents, Sue and Al Petron, during his exchange.

As COVID-19 has spread across the world, everyone has taken some  form of action. While those who are older and at-risk apply extra hand sanitizer and stay inside, young people have flooded beaches and other tourist hot spots, taking advantage of cheap flights and accommodations. Unfortunately, as the virus proceeds to infect more and more people, governments are being forced to step in. Much like individuals, countries are all handling the outbreak in different ways.

Citizen safety is undeniably the goal when forming rules in an attempt to stop the coronavirus. Striving for this ideal, many countries have mandated that all of their foreign exchange students currently studying overseas return home. This means a multitude of foreign exchange students, both in the United States and abroad, are returning to their home countries on very short notice. Mikko Heinäsuo is one of these such students.

Heinäsuo  was a foreign exchange student from Finland who arrived in the states on August 28 with plans to stay for the entirety of the 2019-2020 school year. Due to the coronavirus, he left the United States on March 19, having his stay cut short. During his time in the U.S., Heinäsuo was a part of the wrestling team and he was hosted by his grandparents, Al and Sue Petron. For the 18-year old, the worst part of the coronavirus pandemic was having to leave the United States with such short notice. Now that he is back in Finland, Heinäsuo is staying in the town of Hämeenkyrö. There, he is enjoying spending time with his friends.

As for the country’s coronavirus measures, the Finnish government has closed down Finland’s borders to all non-essential travel. Businesses are currently shut down as well, with the exception of supermarkets and other essential businesses. In addition, the government advises that citizens remain indoors. Much of the precautions in Finland are very similar to the advice given to American citizens. Heinäsuo’s advice to American students is a little different though. “Stay safe and have fun,” is his recommendation as we all hunker down to wait out the coronavirus.

Though the coronavirus is something that the world was not prepared for, both individuals and countries are attempting to take the rapidly changing situation in stride. For exchange students, this means returning home with very little warning. For the rest of us, it may mean going out to buy extra toilet paper and suffering through a few more weeks of online school. For Heinäsuo, it means returning home and enjoying some unexpected time off.

Petter Aadde, Norway

Unfortunately, like Heinäsuo, Aadde’s exchange experience was cut short this year; however, he’s grateful for what his time in the U.S.

Heidi Aadde
Although back in Norway, Aadde was pure smiles next to his two dogs on April 1.

Petter Aadde, a 17-year-old from Bodø, Norway, ventured out of his comfort zone this past year and became a foreigin exchange student at Cannon Falls High School. His adventure officially began when he arrived in Minnesota on August 7th and met his host family, the Monsons, in person for the first time. Months later on March 13, his journey ended.

Like many foreign exchange students, Aadde faced a lot of challenges when he arrived at our school for the first time. Being away from family and friends back home, while getting used to a language barrier, is an ongoing struggle for anyone who chooses to study abroad, but this year the stress was intensified with the sudden arrival of the coronavirus.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on many individuals at our school; students have been stripped of some of their memorable high school experiences because of this virus, and it is fair to argue that COVID-19 has affected our spring sports programs the most. At the moment, all of the spring sports and activities have been indefinitely postponed. This is a huge bummer for all those who were planning on staying busy this spring. Aadde was a part of this group because, although he didn’t play any sports in the beginning of this year, he was planning on joining the trap shooting team this spring.

Despite the fact that Aaade was unable to broaden his horizons and try a new activity this spring, he has remained positive. He saw the bright side of the devastating situation when he talked about his home country which has been hit extremely hard by the pandemic. “The best thing about this is it shows the weaknesses in our [Norway’s] systems and where we have to improve and change,” he stated.

Traveling across the world and being a foreign exchange student is truly a memorable experience; however, dealing with the coronavirus pandemic at the same time made it unforgettable for Aadde. Even though he was still able to soak up some American culture over the past 7 months, he missed out on some irreplaceable experiences. In the end, even with all of the chaos that he’s endured, he still encourages others to “Seek out more of the world and get new perspectives. It’s important. It lets you see things from a new way that might help you later on.”

Izzy Souza, Brazil

Even in these uncertain times, Souza has an optimistic outlook for not only Brazil, not only the U.S., but the entire world.

Julia Jarvi
The Yackels and Souza (middle) took a family photo at the airport before the 18-year-old headed back to Brazil in June of 2019.

Izael Souza, a passionate 18-year-old adventurer who likes to go by Izzy, travelled from Brazil to the United States for an exchange program in August 2018. While attending Cannon Falls High School, he participated in many activities such as soccer, robotics, and photography for The Lantern. In doing so, he formed lifelong friendships that impacted the entire Cannon Falls student body. However, in July 2019, he returned to Brazil to attend college and further his education in Limeira, São Paulo with a promise to stay in touch. Souza’s plan was foiled though, due to the same reason many colleges in the U.S. have stopped holding classes on campus: the coronavirus.

The situation in Brazil is a difficult and complicated one. The exchange student explained that the Governors of the states and the President of Brazil have contrasting ideas about how to deal with the dreadful disease. The Governors are pushing for people to apply social distancing and only leave homes when necessary, similar to many states in the U.S., while the President is leaning toward continuing on as normal and plowing through the infectious obstacle. They’re torn on what to do, so some residents of Brazil have chosen what they want to do about the virus individually. And although Souza has personally decided to practice social distancing, it certainly doesn’t stop him from being social and speaking to his friends from Brazil and the United States.

When the college freshman was interviewed, he said he wanted to remind everyone of a couple of things. First of all, this won’t last and everything is going to be okay if people stay healthy and take care of themselves. Second, he specifically addressed the seniors about how it sucks that this is happening right now. Finishing the interview he stated, “The world is balanced. If something really bad happens, then something really good will follow it. We have our downs, but we also have our ups. Always.” For now, Souza is returning to his previous home until everything calms down, it’s safe for him and everyone else to return, and the chaos and unknowns are figured out and dealt with. The virus has caused not only a spread of disease, but a spread of confusion along with it. In his opinion though, the uncertainty of this situation is not the worst thing about this situation.

The 18-year-old says that the worst thing about this crisis is that the world stopped. He elaborated by saying, “Seniors are not able to enjoy their last year in their school, activities and events have been cancelled all around the world, and international trips to some countries are suspended.” Even in these seemingly dark and gloomy times, Souza manages to find a ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds. The COVID-19 pandemic is an atrocious occurrence that is changing everyone’s lives, but Souza believes, “after all of this is done, people will enjoy the little things in life, such as hugs and spending time with people.” It’s going to take more than a worldwide health crisis to stop Souza from being happy and talking to his friends and others should follow in his footsteps.

Eden Walson, France

In France, Walson has witnessed first hand how Europe has been impacted by the outbreak.

Mary Johnson
Eden Walson (middle), smiled for one last U.S. photo at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport in 2018 with her two host families: the Conways (left) and the Johnsons (right).

Italy, which can be considered the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic, has reached nearly 11,000 deaths as of Monday, March 30. About 11 hours north, in Paris, France, Cannon Falls High School’s former 2017-18 Exchange Student, Eden Walson, has had a front row seat to Europe’s new day-to-day lifestyle. In some senses, the COVID-19 prevention steps taken by France and the U.S. are parallel; in other aspects, America and the European country’s coronavirus combat plans are perpendicular. Walson’s perspective further accentuates how this pandemic extends far beyond Minnesota and far beyond the U.S.

As schools, restaurants, and bars began closing here, the same could be seen in France. Grocery stores, pharmacies, and healthcare facilities remain open while schoolwork and (in Walson’s case) college work has moved online.  Initially, things were a-okay for Walson. For the 20-year-old, the new found time wasn’t all that bad and allowed for a more flexible schedule, filled with family and hobbies. Now, however, France’s government has tightened the reins, providing not even an inch of wiggle room.

Unlike in the U.S., anyone found out and about (whether outside for a walk or for grocery shopping) needs to have official paperwork, stating where they are going and why being outside of their home is necessary. If someone is caught without documentation, the accused will be fined or, after multiple offenses, face jail time. From Walson’s point of view, French people tend to “bend the rules,” so the recent restrictions are essential. Walson emphasized, “Now everyone realizes the impact of the coronavirus and they’re starting to respect the rules more.”

Just like many Americans, Walson is grappling with the changes. But one aspect of the unprecedented circumstances have brought her comfort—unity. Although she believes, “the worst thing is seeing all of the death,” everyone around the globe is experiencing this tragedy together. Everyone is feeling the pain. Even though she’s overseas, Walson can connect with the U.S., a place she once called home, just as much as Americans can connect with France.

Liz Banda, Zimbabwe

Although she is back in the U.S. currently, Banda opened up about the actions her home country, Zimbabwe, has taken.

Rodger Lordermeier
Banda has always had the “travel bug” and she continues to care about the world around her, especially during the coronavirus crisis.

At the beginning of the second semester of the 2015 school year, the Cannon Falls community welcomed foreign exchange student Elizabeth (a.k.a Lizzie or Liz) Banda. She left her home in Harare, Zimbabwe to have an experience many students long for. Now living in Independence, Kansas, she shared her thoughts with The Lantern staff on the current Covid-19 outbreak and its effect on students and adults alike all around the world.

During her time spent in the US as an exchange student, Banda stayed with a total of four host families, immersing herself in many different activities and living styles. She spent her free time racing with the track and field team, going weightlifting on occasion, and assisting with the “Packing for the Weekend” program, trying to fit all the fun she could in before returning home in January of 2016.

The COVID-19 Pandemic is taking its toll everywhere. Zimbabwe, her home country, like most around the world, is taking steps to reduce the risk of spreading the respiratory disease that is already ravaging across the globe.  As of March 30th, the country imposed a lock down nationwide for 21 days. This includes closing down most non essential stores and companies. Visits to the few that remain open (grocery stores, fuel vendors, and companies and organizations that distribute clean water and health related products and services), are sparse. Along with these shutdowns, travel is also being limited. All domestic flights are suspended and commercial flights have been cut back in every airport. As of March 29th, there were five confirmed cases in the African country, one of which turned fatal for a well known television journalist. Citizens fear these numbers are being under reported.

Along with the shut downs, there are many other downsides with this outbreak. For Banda, the worst part of this pandemic is the intense isolation measures that are required to control the spread, stating, “Every day I think about many people who are lonely and grieving during this time and the effects lock downs have on vulnerable communities and fragile economies.” Communities already struggling economically will have a hard time with lock downs for long periods of time. This is especially prominent in communities where citizens make a living off of informal trading, only scraping by to provide for their family. In areas relying on outside clean water sources, who are now unable to receive from them, there is also the looming threat of a Cholera outbreak. She also told of the impact it can have on people with mental health problems. Too much time alone in harmful environments, which many students are facing without the escape of the classroom, can cause suicide rates to rise rapidly as well as cases of domestic violence.

Not everything has to be looked at negatively though. Along with the hardships it brings, the Covid-19 virus also has positives. Banda noted her opinions on the mass quarantine, emphasizing how it gives people time to sit back, reflect, and try to make the most of this time off. “I often feel overwhelmed by how fast-paced the world is and find it hard to not always be engaged in some form of work. I haven’t found myself bored during the time, but, instead, granted more time to focus on a campaign I am working on, webinars, call and check in on loved ones, sleep more, and think about all aspects of my space, thinking, and resources.”

Along with her answers, Banda sent many well wishes towards high school students, particularly, the class of 2020.  “My advice to you is to use this time to bond with family before you potentially head to college.” She also noted now is a great time to start a passion project and build some new skills. Some of her examples of great things to do include: taking online courses, finding new skills and hobbies to focus on, and receiving mentoring from a college student. All in all, this pandemic is affecting students from all around the globe, but, if we follow Banda’s example, we don’t have to strictly focus on the negatives.

This story was originally published on Lantern on April 2, 2020.