VPR Header
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
VPR News
The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

As Coronavirus Worsens, International Students In Vermont Change Plans, Watch News

A person pours sap from a metal bucket into a white plastic bucket.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Ayaka, 18, a senior at The Putney School, collects maple sap on the school's campus. Ayaka was supposed to go home to Japan for spring break, but canceled her trip due to the coronavirus.

For international high school students here in Vermont, living thousands of miles away from their families back home, the new coronavirus has led to uncertainty and concern.

Around the globe trips are being cancelled, public gatherings curtailed, and people are being told to limit travel.

Still, these teenagers are trying to live their lives and make the most of their experiences here in the United States.

On a recent warm early spring morning, a senior from Japan at The Putney School was getting a crash course on how maple syrup is made.

“Well that one’s full,” said the school’s farm manager, Pete Stickney, as he poured a metal bucket full of maple sap into a plastic container. “There you go. And the foam means there’s sweetness in that sap. Hadn’t been very sweet, it’s been running so fast.”

Sign up to receive email updates from VPR about the new coronavirus here.

The student, Ayaka, lifted the heavy plastic bucket of sap and a hauled it over to a tractor. The Putney School asked that the student's last  name not be used to protect her privacy.

Ayaka's on spring break, and she wasn’t supposed to be here in New England, collecting maple sap.

”I was planning on going back home for the spring break,” she said. “I was planning on hanging out with my friends and having a lot of good Japanese food and stuff, but…”

There isn’t a travel ban in Japan, but Ayaka said she and her parents have been watching the news and keeping up on how the new coronavirus is spreading around the globe.

They were afraid Ayaka might end up quarantined somewhere, and maybe miss too much school.

"It's scary. But there's not much I can do, so I'm just going to do my daily routine. And do whatever I can and try not to think about it too much." - Ayaka, Putney School senior

So the trip back home was cancelled and Ayaka is spending the next two weeks in Putney.

”It’s scary,” she said. “But there’s not much I can do, so I’m just going to do my daily routine. And do whatever I can and try not to think about it too much.”

Karen Guttentag is dean of students at The Putney School. It's her job to try to help the students not think about it too much. She said the last few weeks have been intense, with a steady back and forth between the school and parents all over the world who have also been navigating the shifting news story.

Find a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the new coronavirus, plus resources, here.

There are about 40 international students at the school, and many had plans to go home this week.

Guttentag said one student found out just as she was getting ready to leave that the trip back home wasn’t going to happen.

”You know, especially with their fears about what may be going on in their home countries, [they] desperately wanted to be with their families, and have that reassurance,” Guttentag said. “And their families wanted to feel like they had control over their child’s safety as well. So it’s been so sad for many of the families.”

Two young people work on their fingernails outside in the sun.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Giulia Mengoli, 17, left, works on the fingernails of her host sister in Brattleboro. Mengoli is from Modena, Italy, one of the hardest hit regions battling the coronavirus.

Giulia Mengoli is from northern Italy, one of the hardest hit regions battling the coronavirus. She’s here in the United States, spending the year at Brattleboro Union High School as a foreign exchange student.

Just this week, the prime minister in Italy put tight restrictions on travel and banned all public gatherings.

“It’s kind of concerning, but I also know that my parents are good right now, my grandparents are fine, everybody that I know is not in danger,” Mengoli said. “So, that’s good, it makes me feel better. But it’s still a little bit scary, because, you know, it could happen and you’re far away.”

Mengoli’s school back home is shut down. She talks to her parents every day, and she follows her Italian classmates on Instagram.

Mengoli is also doing her best to keep up on the news from her temporary home in southern Vermont.

“All my friends are studying online. And everybody’s just staying home,” she said. “They’re not going out. And that kind of bothers them, because they stay all day home, maybe hang out together, but at home. So it’s kind of boring.”

A young person in a baseball hat.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Arturo Rodriguez, 17, lives in northern Mexico and is spending this academic year at Brattleboro Union High School. Rodriguez is not too concerned with the coronavirus, but is worried about how it might affect travel between the U.S. and Mexico.

Arturo Rodriguez is another international exchange student at Brattleboro Union High. He's from northern Mexico. 

Rodriguez said the students he’s been hanging out with aren’t really obsessing about the virus.

He said young people don’t seem to be getting sick, but he does understand that there are international decisions being made that could affect his travel plans.

Questions, comments, concerns or experiences you want to share about the new coronavirus? Fill out VPR's brief survey here.

“I’m not like super worried. But the thing that for me is worse, is I don’t want the countries to close their doors, you know,” says Rodriguez. “ Like if my country closes the doors, or the United States, it will be complicated to go back to my country. So I am more worried about that than the sickness, you know.”

Many schools around the state have canceled their spring and summer trips. Everyone involved in international education is waiting to see how things play out for the new academic year this fall.

Related Content