And Then There Were None 

 July 23, 2020

By  Laura Kosloff

Almost four months ago, our exchange program (and others) sent hundreds of high school exchange students home early because of COVID-19. We all hoped for the best for Fall. We did a blog post asking ourselves and our readers if high school exchange students would be able to come this Fall. We thought about where we would place our bets.

Now, as July comes to a close, it appears unlikely that there will be many (if any ...) exchange students coming to the U.S. this year. Combined with the difficulties college-level international students are having, the future of study abroad is in chaos.

So Many Unknowns

At the time, we were already disheartened. There were so many uncertainties with respect to health impacts of COVID-19, whether we would successfully “flatten the curve,” what would be the economic impacts, and how schools would structure the Fall term. Since then, so much has changed. We all know the feeling of a month in the year 2020 feeling like a year in itself. Three months ago seems so long ago.

We did think, even then, that schools would probably look different this Fall. We knew, even then, that the pandemic would not disappear quickly. We knew, even then, that class sizes would probably be smaller, and that schools would need to implement social distancing requirements. We knew that schools might have students attending on alternate days.

We knew, and wrote, that we just did not know what any of these variables would have on the viability of high school exchange. We hoped there would be students … but we knew there would be far fewer than usual.

Some Answers Are Arriving

Since the end of April, many of our questions have started to have answers — almost none of them for the good.

  • We know now that while many of the countries where our students come from have gotten the virus under control, the U.S. has not. Our numbers are worse now than they were in the Spring.
  • We know now that many, many more school districts than before have concluded they simply cannot integrate exchange students into their planning for the coming school year.
  • We have seen many, many schools make the decision to have a “hybrid” school schedule, with students attending 2-3 days/week in person and the reminder online.
  • We have seen and continue to see every day more and more schools make the decision to start the school year fully online. In addition, more and more schools are delaying the start of school sports and other activities.
  • We have seen in the past couple of weeks additional restrictions mandated by the U.S. Department of State (e.g., a student placement will not be considered final unless the school to which the student is assigned has at least a partial in-person schedule and the location is not in quarantine). These restrictions were imposed to help ensure student safety, but they further limit the availability of places where exchange students can attend school.
  • We have seen several exchange organizations stop additional placements for the 2020-2021 year and have heard about severe reductions in estimates from colleagues in other organizations about the number of students they expect. We have heard about layoffs being announced in several programs.

And so the announcement this week from our own organization did not come as a surprise.

EF high school exchange year

“It is with heavy hearts that we announce the cancellation of our U.S. exchange program this fall. We were optimistic we could fulfill students’ dreams, and we began preparing students and host families virtually for what exchange might look like in unique circumstances.

It has become clear through the continued spread of COVID-19 and the additional logistical requirements of the Department of State that cancelling the fall program is the most responsible option. Our global teams are currently working to contact those affected by this decision.”

The Future 

We know, and we still believe, that hosting an international student can be a ton of fun. You view your community and the world around you differently after you’ve seen them through the eyes of someone new to your community and the United States. Hosting an exchange student can open you up to new ways of looking at the world, make you appreciate your own culture more than before, and help you make long-term friendships around the world. 

There is a long road ahead before we can get back to seeing the world through others' eyes. There is work to be done in public health in the U.S. and elsewhere, getting children of all ages back to school, and so much more. We want to be optimistic. So we will end today on the same note that our program did in its announcement:

EF high school exchange year

"While we are all saddened that students and host families won’t have the opportunity to bond at a backyard barbecue or experience the first day of school, we are optimistic about the future. Many of our students have decided to defer their exchange experience to next year, and it will take our entire global family working together to bring those dreams of exchange to life. Will you be part of that journey?"

Stay with us. Be part of the future of international cultural exchange. 

Image credit "We Can Make an Impact": Heather Marohl

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