Foreign exchange students and their host families face uncertainty during pandemic

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STANISLAUS COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — Families hosting foreign exchange students now face uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

While some students have cut their trips short to fly back home, a couple of Stanislaus County mothers said they are making the most with the changes.

“Rolling with the punches like we are. It’s one day at a time,” said Dana Haskill, the field manager for International Cultural Exchange Services.

It has not been exactly how Dana Haskill envisioned spending spring afternoons with her foreign exchange student. Instead of the planned road and plane trips, Haskill and her Italian “daughter” are making due with dough.

“Really bonded as a family, and so that time spent at home, it hasn’t been wasted,” Haskill told FOX40.

Nicoletta Limoncella first arrived in Stanislaus County last summer through the International Cultural Exchange Services program.

The high school student said when COVID-19 first hit her home country of Italy she and her parents were concerned.

“They knew that here was more safe than there because, actually, in Italy was bad. So like for me, it was more safe to stay here,” Limoncella explained. 

But to stay here for how much longer? 

Some students trips have been cut short.

“We were all devastated but we understood,” said local host mother Jill Magaña.

Magaña said Pablo, her student from Spain, went back home in March.

She said it is up to the parents whether or not their kids stay with their hosts families.

“I wouldn’t change it for the world because Pablo’s my son now,” Magaña said.

Limoncella is set to return to Italy in June and she admitted there is some concern with her future travel plans. But overall, she has stayed positive.

“My visa’s going to expire and there was not going to be flights,” she said. “That was my what’s going to happen but I can extend it.”

Haskill added that her organization is in constant contact with the Department of State and so far, no cancellations have been announced.

“Of course, if the students can’t come, then they can’t come. We’ll deal with that,” Haskill said.

The Department of State has not mentioned the cancellation of these programs. 

On its website, it states that U.S. embassies and consulates have suspended most visa services. However, if a student’s J-1 Visa does expire, it is up to that student to apply with their country for an extension.

In Limoncella’s case, she does not foresee having that problem.

In the meantime, the pair will continue to bond over pizza — just maybe not over Haskill’s french toast.

“Not really because I don’t like soggy bread,” Limoncella said.

Haskill said they are still hoping to place more foreign exchange students with host families for the upcoming school year.

If your family is interested in hosting a foreign exchange student, click HERE.

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