About a year ago at this time, most foreign exchange students at Camas High School were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were unable to complete their American schooling in-person and missed out on several key high school events, such as prom and graduation. It was a scary, sad, and difficult time, but now they can look back fondly on the time they spent in Camas.
César Sainte Rose from Marseille, France said, “It was a sad moment, an exchange program is such a unique experience and an amazing opportunity to experience something completely new. Having it cut short so unexpectedly especially in these circumstances is something that was hard to grasp at first. It’s a pity I didn’t get to experience my full experience, however, it reminded me of the importance of being grateful and living in the moment.”
Lucas Potin from Rennes, France said, “I felt like I didn’t finish something. But at the same time, it made me stronger and confirmed my choice about living abroad.”
Margot Bekkink from Zwolle, the Netherlands said, “It was a very weird experience, and it was very hard for me to suddenly leave everything and everyone and go back to the Netherlands. I was really looking forward to the rest of my exchange year and Camas really felt like my second home. However, it was nice to be with my family and friends back home during these times. I have learned a lot from this experience and just in general during my exchange year and after my exchange year, all of it has been a life-changing experience.”
Miriam Pontillo from Bologna, Italy said, “I loved staying in Camas and attending Camas High School. It was heartbreaking leaving in the middle of the experience. The hardest thing was saying goodbye to my host parents, Kevin and Chris Harper. They are wonderful people and I still consider them my family. Leaving Camas has been really hard for me, but it made me stronger for sure.”
One CHS foreign exchange student was put in a unique situation. Matteo Peqini, from Reggio Emilia, Italy, was given the option to stay in Camas until June.
“I didn’t cut my stay in the U.S last year. I went back to Italy at the end of June. I was quarantined in Camas with my host family for 2 months. In June there weren’t many cases so I spent my last month hanging out with my friends,” he said.
Former CHS foreign exchange students shared their key takeaways and favorite memories they have from their time in the Pacific Northwest.
Peqini said, “Every single time I was with my friends it was amazing. It felt like being in a movie. But my best memories are for sure with Drew and Kellen at Drew’s basement. We used to spend a lot of time there. It was always super fun.”
Bekkink said, “CHS gave me the American high school experience I had always wanted to experience! I was able to feel the school spirit, play school sports, make lifelong friends, and follow fun classes with amazing teachers!”
“My key takeaways from my time in CHS were friendship, everyone knows everyone. You can choose what you like to do, find yourself through all the classes,” Potin said. “My best memories were mostly about sports; meetings at cross-country, the football final that we won, and also soccer with friends. I remember the basketball games!”
“Firstly I learned the power of kindness and sharing. I also learned to never be afraid to throw yourself in new experiences,” Pontillo said. “I’d say that one of the best memories that I have is my first football game, where I felt welcomed by my new group of friends. It was a lot of fun! I’ll always remember all the times I ate Popeyes hamburgers with my host family.”
“CHS showed me the power a community could have, it taught me to continue seeking enriching experiences and always being open to new opportunities,” Sainte Rose said.
He added, “DECA business club was definitely one of my best memories at CHS, I loved getting the opportunity to develop my business skills and meet a ton of new amazing people and develop friendships. I also have amazing memories from the cross country season in the fall, which was an amazing way to connect and make new friends when first arriving in Camas. I also loved sharing amazing memories with my friends and fellow exchange students.”
These exchange students built unbreakable bonds with their host families and friends in the United States. Despite being separated by thousands of miles and time zones, they still keep in touch with each other.
Bekkink said, “I try to stay in touch with my friends from CHS, and my host family as much as possible. The time difference and our busy lives make it difficult, but I try my best. I am also planning on visiting everyone as soon as we can travel again!”
Potin said, “I do keep in touch with people, but it’s very hard though. It’s been a long time since I face-timed my friends. We talk sometimes when something happens.”
Sainte Rose said, “I keep in touch with a lot of my friends from Camas. They are some of the most amazing people I have ever meet. I am extremely grateful for them and can’t wait to see everyone again one day.”
Peqini said, “I try to call them once or twice a week. Because of the time zone, it gets hard to talk often.”
Every former CHS exchange student is in a different situation. Some are going on to college, while others are still in high school. One thing they all have in common is excitement about the future.
Sainte Rose said, “My North American experience is far from being finished, in fact, it’s just getting started. I started my first year of college online studying international business and economics at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. I am moving there in the summer. After that, I plan on working in Canada for a few years and eventually move to the U.S. again one day.”
Peqini said, “I need to get my high school diploma first. After that, in September I will go to the University of Cattolica in Milan. I will study economy and I will move to Milan. After more than a year of being stuck at home, I can’t wait to start this new experience. I’m super excited!”
Pontillo said, “I’m planning on studying international relations here in my city, but I’d like to do more experiences abroad!”
Potin said, “I’m in high school right now. Still at school and no online school luckily. Next year I might go to an engineering school.”
Bekkink said, “I started college last September. My exchange year was during my gap year between high school and college. I study international hospitality management. My exchange year in Camas has definitely been very useful for college since my studies are in English.”
These former exchange students established roots in the Camas community and made great memories with life-long friends.