A Look at How COVID-19 has Affected One of PC’s Foreign Exchange Students


With the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) having recently been deemed a pandemic, foreign exchange students are facing a variety of changes. The recent travel ban put in place by President Trump does not directly affect any exchange scholars currently attending Panther Creek, but in the case of 16 year old Emilia Burger, an exchange student from Bavaria, Germany, it has certainly had an impact. The morning after the ban was issued, Emilia received multiple emails telling her that she would have to end her ten-month exchange nearly three months early. She would have just under a week left in the United States before having to fly back home to Bavaria.

“I really like it here, I love the school, I love the students here, I love North Carolina, and my whole host community, and it’s really hard for me to just leave in a few days, because I was not prepared to leave that early. I thought that [coronavirus wasn’t] that big of a problem and I [could] just stay until the end of my exchange here, so I’m really sad about that,” says Emilia, who is visibly disappointed about ending her stay in the United States so soon. “I don’t want to go back because it’s really nice here, but I have no choice.” She says she hopes to return to America as a visitor someday, but will finish her remaining years of schooling in Germany.

Fortunately, none of Emilia’s close friends or family have been afflicted with COVID-19. There are over 600 active cases of the novel coronavirus in Bavaria as of March 14th. Schools in Bavaria have been closed for the time being in hopes of slowing the spread of the disease. 

Speaking of schools, Emilia shed some light on how different the education system in Germany is to the one in the United States. “German school starts in elementary school.… we don’t have kindergarten. Kindergarten… it’s also called kindergarten but it’s something different in Germany. Elementary school is from 1st to 4th grade, and then you go to another school, to high school, basically, but we have three different kinds of high schools.” Graduation from these different types of schools may occur earlier or later on a student’s educational timeline. Emilia, for instance, graduated last year, and decided to study in the United States for a year before attending two more years of German schooling, followed by university, where she thinks she’ll study to be a teacher of English and either history or French.

She tells us that any class credits she has earned while attending Panther Creek won’t actually be valid in Germany. “I’ll go back and I have to do junior year again in Germany,” she explains. When asked if she thought having an extra year of high school was worth the experience, Emilia responded “Absolutely. Absolutely, it’s… some people were asking me if it’s just a lost year, but in my opinion, it’s not at all, because you learn so many things about yourself, how to solve different kinds of problems on your own, you… well, you improve your language, of course, a lot, and also you learn to communicate with people better you don’t know. You learn how to build up a life, basically, without having anything. It’s really amazing, and to experience this whole ‘high school’ thing…. it’s so amazing that I have the opportunity to experience all of that. I’m really glad to be here, and like I said, I’m really sad that I have to go back, but I will miss everything very much.”

Although it’s certainly disappointing that Emilia will be leaving us so soon, Panther Creek is glad to have had her with us this year. She is a friendly, delightful person, and we wish her all the best in the years to come!