In more carefree days, foreign students attending Red Deer Public Schools were taken on field trips to Banff and Drumheller. (Contributed photo).

To stay or go? Red Deer’s foreign students face difficult decisions

Six Italian students decide staying here is safer than returning home

With planes arriving, and worried parents waiting at home, more foreign students are leaving Red Deer every day.

But at least six Italian students are staying put. They jointly decided, along with their parents in Italy, to ride out the coronavirus pandemic in central Alberta, because it’s safer here than returning to their heavily virus-stricken homeland.

“They are all worried for their family members — especially their grandparents,” said Brian Plastow, director of international education for Red Deer Public Schools.

“Fortunately, kids are naturally resilient … and they are thankful to be in a safe place.”

Ninety foreign students have been attending the Red Deer Public School District this semester, from countries including Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Spain and Vietnam.

As of Tuesday, 39 of them had returned home because of COVID-19. And 51 were still awaiting decisions about flights and deliberating whether it’s better to remain in Red Deer until the end of the semester, or go back early.

“It’s hard to describe how emotional it is for everybody,” said Plastow.

Leave-or-stay decisions are usually made between the students, their families, and the educational agencies that arranged their overseas schooling. But they aren’t easy to make, said Plastow, who noted the school district helps any way it can.

Some foreign students have been ordered to leave with little notice — without even a proper chance to say goodbye to their Red Deer friends, he added.

“They might be excited to see their parents again, but they are leaving a little piece of their hearts behind…”

While a handful of foreign students arrive here for a Canadian adventure during their gap year, Plastow said most choose to be in Red Deer for actual schooling — to improve their English skills while completing high school courses.

The bulk are in Grades 9 to 12. Plastow said some of the older teens will need to complete their courses online — perhaps back in their own countries — to graduate.

“Right now, we’re riding the wave… every day is a new challenge,” he added, as district officials provide rides to the airport and help liaise with home-stay families for students who are remaining to the end of term.

Plastow said some countries, such as Spain, have insisted that their students return immediately, because they have chartered planes to pick them up, right across the country.

With border closures taking effect and many international airlines curtailing service, there’s a concern that if the students don’t leave now, their travel options will run out.

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lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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