Bettendorf’s foreign exchange students speak about experiences leaving the U.S. during the COVID-19

A night to remember: Ghazy Mamamid (top) and I Made Primasandya (bottom) have some fun during prom.

By Hialeah Bever

The coronavirus pandemic that started months ago cut the school year short for many. But the news of online schooling was even worse for Bettendorf’s foreign exchange students. Their remaining time in the U.S. would be spent at home and as other students were packing up their lockers, and getting ready for summer, I Made Primasandya and Ghazy Mamamid would have to make the uncertain return home.

“My journey coming back was very different and wasn’t what I expected when I first came to the United States. It was during the time when no one knew what was going on,” said Mamamid.

In the earliest months of the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans were confused and worried about how the virus was spreading. Airports were especially concerned as hundreds if not thousands of people would travel through the buildings each day.

“I was taking precautions but that didn’t help because I still got COVID when I arrived in Palestine and I think I got it in the airport,” said Mamamid.

Other countries had a similar fear and took the necessary precautions with foreign visitors.

“When I first got back home to Indonesia they already had coronavirus cases. So there were health procedures at the airport. We were lined up and got our body temperature checked, the health workers there interviewed us for our physical conditions too. It was quite hectic but [they were] very prepared,” said Primasandya.

“Before I knew I had COVID I stayed in an isolation room in Palestine for two weeks, and it was really weird,” said Mamamid. “When I first got there I saw signs in my native language and my second language, Hebrew, and I just had the thought ‘I’m back!’”

Each student encountered differing procedures to follow when they arrived at their homes as well.

“When I arrived in Bali (a province in Indonesia) I had to follow the local health protocol procedure and be quarantined for a day at a local guest house. That's where I got rapid tested and I was able to go home after testing negative,” said Primasandya.

“At first I thought it would be a couple more days,” said Mamamid, “ but then it became a month and a half. It also really sucked because I lost my sense of smell and taste, which was the worst timing ever because I really wanted to eat my country’s food.”

The sense of finally being back in their home countries was exciting and nerve-racking for the students as well. The past year was full of calls and Facetimes, but they would finally be seeing their families in person.

“I still remember when I was driving back home and was two minutes away from my house. I got really nervous and my heart stopped because I remembered the way back home but seeing it in person and driving on the road, it was a weird feeling,” said Mamamid.

While Mamamid was feeling nostalgic at the sights of Palestine, Primasandya was disappointed with Indonesia’s COVID restrictions.

“It felt quite weird being back in my own home. I had a lot to tell and I wanted to meet my friends but we were restricted to go anywhere at the time. Though I [was] relieved I was able to get home safely,” said Primasandya.

Both have settled back into their daily lives. Mamamid is currently studying for his national exams and Primasandya is getting ready for his virtual graduation.

Hialeah Bever is a sophomore.

This is her first year as a staff writer for The Growl.


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