COVID-19 pandemic shuts down student exchange program; one of the 12 Class of 2020 valedictorian’s $1,850 summer trip to Germany canceled

Then+junior+Jason+Liang+%28left%29+stands+with+his+host%2C+Sidney+Zumkier%2C+at+the+Bohemian+Rhapsody+concert+when+he+traveled+to+Germany+for+The+Friendship+Connection%27s+student+exchange+program+in+the+summer+of+2018.+This+summer%27s+event+got+nixed+in+early+March+because+of+the+worldwide+spread+of+COVID-19.+Accolade+File+Photo+

Then junior Jason Liang (left) stands with his host, Sidney Zumkier, at the Bohemian Rhapsody concert when he traveled to Germany for The Friendship Connection's student exchange program in the summer of 2018. This summer's event got nixed in early March because of the worldwide spread of COVID-19. Accolade File Photo

Lauren Jung

Senior Samuel Kho had a month of his summer plans all set since November, which was when he first applied and paid $1,850 to participate in a summer German exchange program. 

After graduation on May 28, Kho was scheduled in June to take a flight to Germany and to live in Stuttgart, Baden Württemberg, soaking in the town’s sights and culture, visiting South Deutschland and attending some classes.

But he received an email on March 6 that would cancel all of these plans.

“It is with a very heavy heart that I am writing to tell you that we will be canceling this year’s exchange due to the coronavirus,” according to the email from Krista Winzer-Lee, coordinator of The Friendship Connection Inc. based in Ohio. “This was definitely the most difficult decision I have ever had to make.”

The student exchange program would have had him live in a German high school student’s home from June 21-July 12. 

“It was a bummer because it was something I was really looking forward to, but I still got in contact with the German student, and we’re still talking,” said Kho, the only Sunny Hills student who signed up for the exchange program this school year.

Although he hasn’t gotten his money back yet, he said he still wishes to travel to Germany during or after college.

Besides Kho’s canceled trip, the spread of the novel coronavirus also resulted in the canceled trips of two students from Germany who were scheduled to stay in Fullerton and visit Sunny Hills from April 1-27.

“When we first found out, I was very disappointed more for my students than for myself,” German teacher Rick Schuelke said. “We were all looking forward to having them for a month, but as things progressed, I quickly realized it was better that it was canceled earlier rather than waiting until school was closed.”

The program would have had the two German students following a host SH student around campus and staying at his or her house. Kho would have hosted one of the German students, and sophomore Mary Grace Rovina from the German 2 class would have hosted the other.

Kho’s younger sister, freshman Magdalene, would have also wanted to sharpen up on her German since she’s currently enrolled in German 1 this semester.

“I felt really disappointed because I was hoping to improve my German skills, but the opportunity was taken away,” Magdalene Kho said. “Our entire family was excited, and we had lots of things ready only for our plans to get ruined.”

Though junior Jessica Lee from the German 3 class said she wasn’t going to be a host, she still laments the lost opportunity.

“It’s sad because I feel like a lot of people were excited to communicate with and personally interact with someone living in a different country,” Lee said. “But, health and safety come first, so I hope they have a chance to come to the U.S. when the coronavirus death rate goes down.”