Dear Host Family,
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create new challenges. Challenges for families, schools, communities, governments, and organizations of all kinds across the globe. International education and travel is no exception. We recognize the challenges that our host families are facing as caregivers for ISE students. We continue to be impressed with the compassion and support that you have demonstrated during this difficult time.
A few days ago, we reached out to advise host families and students to consider the challenges that have been presented with the current outbreak, including school closures, travel restrictions and general health concerns for citizens around the world.
We are currently recommending that students who can go home, do go home, but we are not mandating it as long as natural families and host families are comfortable continuing with the program. Our primary focus right now is facilitating travel for students and/or host families who have requested an early return. This has been far more challenging than anticipated and will require patience on everyone’s part, as travel is projected to be delayed for several weeks or longer in many affected countries around the world.
Below are a few FAQ’s that we hope you will find helpful. We recommend that you read through all of them so that you have the most up-to-date information.
Why hasn’t ISE required all students to return?
We recognize that there are risks and benefits associated with returning home and staying. For that reason, we feel that the best course of action is to give students, natural families, and host families the freedom to make the best decision for themselves based on their individual circumstances. We are taking guidance from the CDC, WHO, and the Department of State and working closely with our international partners to determine a plan while taking into consideration countries whose borders were closed without notice, have fewer resources, and where families may not be able to receive their students right now. Because our students and families are impacted in different ways, we have chosen to respond in a more customized approach.
We want to make it clear, however, that there is no guarantee that any student will be able to complete the program. As stated above, the scope of this pandemic is far-reaching and the situation is changing daily. There is a high probability that most, if not all, schools across the U.S. will close or extend closures, and that travel will continue to be extremely difficult for returning students. Currently, we are focusing on voluntary and need-based program withdrawals. We are trying to make special considerations for students who cannot return home for specific reasons whenever possible.
We’re undecided, what should we do?
While many students and/or host families have made the decision to end the program early, many students, with agreement from their host families and natural parents, have chosen to remain in the U.S. for the time being. Students and families must evaluate the current and
potential risks and benefits associated with choosing to continue with the program for any length of time. Things to consider when making a decision include:
It is estimated that a significant portion of the workforce will be unemployed by the end of this crisis. Additionally, many Americans are already facing reduced income due to a reduction in available shifts. Have you considered how this will affect your family’s finances? Will you still be able to support the exchange student if this continues for an extended period of time? If you are not absolutely sure, then the student should return home.
We are already seeing a shortage of available food staples (meat, bread, dairy, paper goods.) Knowing that the most likely scenario is that you and your family will be stuck at home with a limited opportunity to purchase basic necessities, are you prepared to manage this for several weeks? When people are home with nothing to do, they tend to eat more out of boredom. Are you prepared for this?
Teenagers will lose their routines as a consequence of quarantine protocols (clubs, sports, school, etc.) Are you prepared to have a student in your home for an extended period of time? Are you prepared to handle behavioral issues that may come up? Your Area Rep will be able to provide guidance and support over the phone. They will not be able to be present in person during this time.
Reduced Support from International Partners
Given the prevalence of global quarantines, there will also be limited support and assistance available from our partners overseas. This means that, as time goes on, assistance in arranging return travel and solving program-related issues (behavioral, academic, financial, etc.) may become increasingly difficult.
Health and Safety of students, natural family, and host family. We are concerned about how this virus will get worse here in the states as we are already seeing and we feel that the best place for a student during a pandemic like we are going through is with their natural family.
School Closures: While schools may have presently suspended operations, it is becoming more and more likely that schools will not be going back in session. While nothing is confirmed, we believe that ministries of education will make exceptions for students.
If my student is returning, how is travel arranged?
In the event of a student leaving the program, the student’s international agency will work in collaboration with the student’s natural family to plan the return and purchase flights. We ask for the host families to continue to provide support and guidance to the student throughout this process. We also ask that if the host family is dropping the student off at the airport, that they remain in the area until it is certain that the student will be able to board. This doesn’t mean the family has to wait in the airport. They just remain within range given the unpredictability of international travel at this time.
What happens if there are no flights available/travel is not possible?
If travel is not an option, we are humbly asking that families who have made the
commitment to care for their ISE student as a son or daughter, continue to host until we can arrange for travel home. We cannot guarantee relocations given the situation but will continue to provide program support and work with our partners to arrange return travel. Please contact your Area Representative with any issues or concerns. Your safety and wellbeing are very important to us. We will do the best we can to support you and find workable solutions.
How do we handle school closures/grades?
We encourage all students to request transcripts now and to find out if they can start/continue distance-learning from their home countries. We don’t have concrete answers regarding convalidation/credit transfers just yet but are working with our partners to learn more every day.
If Your Student Stays…
Please stay in contact with your local Area Representative. Your Area Rep will continue to supervise our students, although in-person visits are not possible at this time. For that purpose, video conferencing using FaceTime, Skype, or other visual tools will replace in-person visits for the near future.
If your student is showing any signs of illness, please inform your local ISE Area Representative immediately. If there is a medical emergency, please contact our emergency number at 631-297-6163.
There is obvious interest from the media regarding how this is affecting our students. Please send any media requests to our National Director Gary Lubrat at 631-635-1029.