The Effect of COVID-19 on Exchange Students

“I hate it. I hate being where I am. I hate being stuck at home. I hate not to be able to see my friends, play a sport, or attend the school I like with nice people and learn something,” said  Nik Politakis, an exchange student from Austria who has been sent home after the outbreak of COVID-19.

Politakis isn’t the only exchange student being sent home right now. Many exchange students are being sent home and have been since March after it was recommended by the CDC. This is very hard for the students because this is an unprecedented situation and leaves a lot of questions up in the air about how they finish their classes. Will they continue to take the classes from Oyster River online or will they try and join their classmates and finish classes with their schools back home?

Politakis began classes at Oyster River at the beginning of the second semester. He was visiting from Austria and was supposed to stay in the US until a week or so after school ended. Education First (EF), the company he came through, decided that it was better if he went home to Austria sooner than he had planned and he had to leave very abruptly in the middle of March. Since then, how he will continue his schooling for the rest of the year is still up in the air. 

“In order for me to continue to attend American school I have to hear back from my Minister of Education. That will determine if I am able to. If the minister says it’s okay then I have to get into contact with my headmaster to see if it’s okay with him as well. I want to [keep going with American School] but I’m not too sure if I’ll be able to,” said Politakis.

He has been waiting to get a response back and in the meantime he has been doing his best to keep up with his American classes in case he will have to return. That, however, brings up its own set of issues. “Oyster River blocked my access to their websites because they can’t let me visit those websites if I don’t have a clear ‘yes’ from my school, so I’m relearning and redoing all the old work I’ve done so far and I’m trying to keep up with their pace,” said Politakis.

Alice Pistritto is an exchange student from Sicily, Italy. She has had a slightly different experience. Much like Politakis, Pistritto was supposed to be here until the end of the year. She arrived mid-August and had a ticket to leave on June 19th, so she came expecting a 10 month trip. However, she already knows how she will continue with school. “Luckily, I will be able to continue my study program with Oyster River from Italy remotely, so I can complete my American experience. Teachers will contact me by email to let me know all the assignments that I have to do, because Schoology doesn’t work in Italy,” said Pistritto.

Both of them are unhappy with the situation, but they’re trying to make the best of it. “When I first received the email where they told me to go back I was feeling really bad. I was very sad, just thinking that all this beautiful experience will be gone soon. Because of this pandemic I don’t even have the possibility to say goodbye to my friends and teachers. Moreover, I have to leave the fantastic family that is hosting me earlier,” said Pistritto. “Now I feel a little bit better because I understand that everyone is in the same situation and almost all the exchange students all over the world are coming back home.”

The people surrounding them are also going to miss them and are sad that they have to go home sooner. “Alice had an impact on me because she’s different from everyone else at school. I know that’s one of the most cliche things to say but as a non-American she doesn’t portray the typical narcissistic traits that most of us have which is so refreshing … I feel like if we had more time together we would’ve become even closer friends,” said Tess Lippmann (‘21), a friend of Pistritto.

The fact that they had already formed such close bonds made it harder for everyone. “I think we are all sad that he left because we expected him to stay longer … It’s like having a family member leave,” said Eli Vannata (‘21), a member of Politakis’ host family.

Politakis hopes to hear more about what his situation will be sometime in the upcoming days and Pistritto will be leaving today, April 14, to go back to Italy.