Exchange student stuck in Minnesota due to COVID-19 pandemic

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Playing catch with a dog can be a great distraction from the troubles of COVID-19.

Even with that backyard recreation, these are difficult days for Ecuadoran exchange student Dany Serrano.

"It’s kind of scary," he said. "It’s frustrating."

Frustrating, because he’s is 3,200 miles from home, with no clear road back.

The 18-year old said he’s grateful for the seven months he’s had with his hosts, the Newhouse family in Chanhassen.

But now, with COVID-19 travel restrictions, he’s unable to go home.

"Everything is closed. Planes, the airport, borders," Serrano said. "You just have to wait in these situations, and with COVID, you’re not going to see part of your family again."

He misses his parents, Oswaldo and Ximena, who manage a flower exporting business in the Ecuadoran capital, Quito.

"We’re all navigating a new normal, that’s for sure," said Karin Newhouse, who works for Hubbard Broadcasting.

She said she was looking forward to the next few months.

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Her son, C.J., and Serrano were scheduled to attend graduation together at Chanhassen High School.

"I feel bad for him, I feel really bad for his parents," Newhouse said. "They’re obviously scared, they’re missing him. Their 18-year old is halfway around the world."

Serrano isn’t alone.

Kathy Dahlen, of NW Services, which coordinates student exchanges, said there are 200 to 300 exchange students attending classes at Minnesota schools each year.

About half of them, she said, will have to stay because of closed borders and shut down airports.

"Our main concern is for the safety of the children," she said. "We basically turned to families to let them know it could be mid-summer, into the fall or later when we can actually get a flight for them to get home."

For Serrano — and both families — it’s a waiting game, with no good timeline.

"Hopefully back to Ecuador, everything will be normal again, and all this ends," he said. "Right now, we just have to wait, you know?"

The hoped-for plan — when the pandemic threat is over — is that both families will meet in Ecuador, for a special visit during the December holidays.

"We’re very lucky to have such a great kid with us, and we welcome him into our home as long as he needs to stay," Newhouse said. "I hope that people mind the stay at home and we flatten that curve, and we can get things back to normal sooner than later, and that Dany can go home to his family."