Exchange students’ COVID experiences

Natalie Wilcox and Phoebe Brennan

   “I cannot stay inside this house any longer. I haven’t seen my friends in four weeks, and it’s making me go crazy. I eventually decide to lie and fill out the form to leave my house. Instead of going to the grocery store like it says on the form, I sneak into the forest to see my friends. It’s definitely a risk, but it’s worth it knowing I could see my friends and step outside for the first time in (what it felt like) months.” Jeanne Hecquet, a foreign exchange student at WO from France, recalls a time in April when her country was shut down in quarantine due to COVID-19. 

   The COVID-19 health pandemic has affected countries all over the world. Foreign exchange students at WO shared how their home countries have dealt with the Corona Virus in comparison to the United States. 

   Jr. Jeanne Hecquet (France), Soph. Selina Haedicke (Germany), Soph. Celina Jochim (Germany), and Soph. Sancha Telles (Portugal) are all foreign exchange students attending West Ottawa. France, Germany, and Portugal all went into quarantine in mid March, and lasted until May.

   Due to rising cases, both Germany and France recently started their second quarantine. Haedicke said, “Cases have increased a lot recently, which is why Germany is starting a second quarantine.” 

   Portugal, however, has not gone into another quarantine. “No parts of Portugal are in quarantine, but there are restrictions on movements and curfews,” Telles said.

   In all three countries, schools are currently a mixture of online and in person. In the first quarantine, students had to stay online through the end of the school year in the U.S., Portugal, and France. 

   However, the school Jochim attended in Germany was able to finish the school year in person. Jochim said “Our summer break starts at the end of July, so in June we went for about six weeks back to school. During that time, the classes got divided into half, so less people would be there. We had one week in person and the other week online, so it switched each week.”

   When it comes to each country taking the pandemic seriously, France, Portugal, and Germany have been more cautious than the United States. 

   Hecquet said “People in France are listening to the rules. During quarantine you needed a paper that allowed you to leave the house to get food or exercise or work. Another thing is in big cities you have to wear masks even outside on streets, and you can get in big trouble if you continuously get caught not wearing a mask.” 

   Similarly, Telles said “For the most part, people in Portugal are taking it very seriously. We have to wear our masks in all public places and even outside in the streets.” 

   Jochim said “Some people in Germany take it seriously and some don’t. People who don’t take it seriously even go out on the street to demonstrate against it without masks and that’s completely stupid in my opinion.” 

   Heideicke similarly said “I think most people in Germany are taking the whole pandemic seriously, but there are always stupid people.”

   Lastly, the foreign exchange students explained the ways the U.S. and their country have dealt with COVID-19.

   Hecquet said “The U.S. has been more flexible with the rules and not following them as well. Each state has chosen to deal with COVID and given different rules for each state. In France the President and government work together to make the COVID-19 rules for everyone and the police are much more strict with enforcing the rules. People get in trouble by law enforcement when they don’t follow the guidelines in France.” 

   “I think Germany reacted a lot quicker and handled it better than the United States. People also followed rules immediately. That reaction made it possible to go kind of back to normal after a few months. In the summer, everyone needed to wear masks. So I think Germany was a little smarter about that than Trump and some other Americans” Haedicke said.

   “I think one major difference is that people are wearing their masks as required” Jochim said. “I’ve seen a lot of people not taking the masks seriously here but I would say that in Germany people are pretty consistent with wearing their masks.”

   The COVID-19 pandemic has majorly impacted countries around the world, requiring interventions to prevent its spread. During the first quarantine, nobody thought that foreign exchange students would be allowed to come to the United States. Today, it is a blessing they are here to experience a new culture and share their stories.