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Student’s study abroad plans derailed

WILLIAMSTOWN — An area student studying abroad was among numerous international students sent back to their home countries in recent weeks due to concerns of a global pandemic.

Lauren Strobl, 15, of Williamstown, was studying in Germany when COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, began spreading. Strobl, a 10th-grader at Veritas Classical Academy, had the opportunity to study abroad through the AFS Intercultural Program and arrived in Germany in early September.

“I’d heard about COVID-19 the first week of January,” she said. “It was just on social media saying it was spreading, but of course was not as much of a problem as it is now.”

In recent months the virus has spread across the world, and just this week West Virginia officials announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the state. Until then, West Virginia had been the last state without a confirmed case of coronavirus.

Strobl said while there was little immediate fear of the virus among herself and other students, it soon became apparent it was causing a worldwide disruption in programs and travel.

“Honestly I didn’t have a lot of concern until the second week of March. It all happened really fast. We knew it was getting worse in Italy, and the kids there were sent home, so I think that’s when the possibility of the kids in Germany being sent home came up,” Strobl said. “But we knew the virus was just as bad in Germany as in the United States, so we thought I’d be safer to stay. I still was convinced we would be allowed to stay.”

Strobl said another group of students in Germany were sent home on March 12.

“After that, I knew it was coming,” she said. “It all happened very quickly.”

Students in the exchange program were being sent home and on March 13 all schools closed. On March 14, a Saturday, they were told they too would be headed home. Strobl arrived home on Wednesday.

“So I would say I was never really concerned about getting corona, but I got concerned as to how it would affect my program the week we got sent home. Like I said, it all happened very quickly.”

Strobl said on the trip home she was screened for the virus and showed no signs of a fever. Once she returned home, however, she self-quarantined for 14 days.

“My self-quarantine is a requirement of both the CDC and my study abroad program,” she said.

While still physically healthy, however, Strobl said she has had difficulty adjusting to the change.

“How am I feeling? Very sad,” she said. “I miss my host mother and Germany and (speaking) German.”

Strobl said she and her family members remain healthy and are trying to adapt to the new normal.

“My family is fine. It doesn’t even feel like we’ve not seen each other for 6.5 months. It feels a little weird being back, but also completely normal. I can’t explain it.”

Strobl’s mother, Amy Strobl, said while it is good to have her daughter home, she is sorry for the disruption it’s caused to her studies.

“We are very sad her program was cut short, but completely respect AFS’s decision. We felt like she was in a safe, loving home in Germany and we were more worried about her flying home and being in busy airports than staying put on the ground,” Amy Strobl said. “However, as the situation continues to evolve around the world and no one knows what tomorrow holds, it’s good to have Lauren with us.”

Amy Strobl said the return home marks the end of Lauren Strobl’s studies in Germany, but she knows her daughter will return as soon as possible.

“She is experiencing reverse homesickness while getting used to having siblings again. She loved being an only child,” Amy Strobl said. “Should school resume, Lauren will return to VCA and finish there. And while her program is over, she is already making plans to visit her host mom again.”

Michael Erb can be reached at merb@newsandsentinel.com.

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