During the last week in March, senior foreign exchange students Giorgia Spicciarelli and Lina Gaucke arrived at Eppley Airfield, completely unprepared to leave their home they had known for over a year. As Gaucke traveled to Kalrshrue, Germany and Spicciarelli to Bologna, Italy, their minds were not on COVID-19, but rather on the American high school experiences they missed because of it.
“COVID-19 crushed about every dream I had about spring and summer. I was looking forward to prom and graduation, hanging out with my friends, going to Kansas City, annoying my host siblings, and so much more,” Gaucke said.
Spicciarelli also was looking forward to finishing her high school experience in the U.S.
“The coronavirus cut my exchange three months short,” Spicciarelli said. “As a European teenager, I was looking for the ‘American high school dream’ with prom and graduation that I am going to completely miss.”
Besides the experiences they’re leaving behind, Gaucke and Spicciarelli were also separated from their host families unexpectedly. Spicciarelli’s host mom, Lara Hanlon, was caught off guard having to say goodbye so soon.
“We had plans for a big combination graduation/going away party that had to be completely scrapped,” Hanlon said. “While she got to say goodbye to a few friends and close family members, there were many people with whom she wasn’t able to get final moments. We had to adjust to the idea of saying goodbye and living without her very abruptly instead of having weeks and months to adjust.”
Gaucke felt similarly towards her abrupt goodbye with her host family.
“I’m going to miss my host family a lot. They don’t even feel like a host family anymore. It’s been like that for a long time,” Gaucke said. “After the first month, it felt like they’ve always been my family. And they truly are. I love them like my German family.”
Departing was also difficult because Gaucke and Spicciarelli had formed a strong friendship from first arriving together in the U.S. They communicated through Whatsapp as they were part of the same foreign exchange group coming to Nebraska.
“During the exchange year, you can feel alone even if you are in the center of people,” Spicciarelli said. “Everyone knows each other since they were young, and everybody speaks another language than you. That’s why our friendship is special, it’s because we’ve been through the same things together.”
The seniors plan to continue to communicate with each other, their American friends, and host families through social media and other communication platforms. Although their exchanges were cut short because of COVID-19, both Gaucke and Spicciarelli are taking the lessons they’ve learned back to their home countries.
“I lived with the Jolley family, who are probably the smartest and kindest people I ever met. From them, I learned how to be loving to someone you don’t even know,” Gaucke said. “They always treated me like one of their own children. I learned that kindness doesn’t cost anything.”
Spicciarelli is taking away a similar sentiment.
“I learned that you start living when you exit your comfort zone,” Spicciarelli said. “You don’t need blood to love someone as a family member. I consider everybody that I met during this year family and friends for life.”