By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – What started as the experience of a lifetime, turned into a disappointing end for West De Pere junior Emma Feldhausen.
Amid concerns of the spread of COVID-19, Feldhausen came home Saturday, March 21, from her 10-month foreign-exchange experience in Brazil.
Emma, the daughter of Joe and Kourtney Feldhausen, wasn’t expected home until June 7.
Feldhausen, who stayed with three separate families in Brazil, said the city she stayed in, Cachoeiro de Itapemirim, was similar to the size of the Green Bay metro area and compact with countryside mixed in.
“It’s good to be home,” she said. “My last few weeks were filled with lots of anxiety and sadness. I was on the phone with my dad, and he said, ‘Emma, it’s time.’ I immediately started crying. We reached out to the travel agency, and they booked me flights within the same week. It was hard for me to accept, and I didn’t get to end the way I wanted to. I wasn’t able to say goodbye properly. They had a going-away party that was canceled.”
Emma’s mom said she was relieved to have her daughter home.
“It’s been a stressful few weeks,” she said. “When your 17-year-old daughter is 5,400 miles away, you want her home. We pulled her at a good time. We were a bit surprised we weren’t getting more direction, especially with how fast this spreads. I kept reaching out to the different organizations to check the status of things. The bizarre thing was her third host mother was a doctor of infectious disease in Brazil.”
The Feldhausens had a conference call with her host mother through an interpreter about three weeks before Emma came home.
“Her host mother felt she was safe where she was, and I know she was being taken care of,” Kourtney said. “The visa and insurance for Emma expired after 364 days, so I was concerned about her not being able to get out of there when the time came. She called me about a week later and told me her school was closed.”
Both Kourtney (Howard-Suamico) and Joe (West De Pere) are educators, so they have a good idea of what remote learning should be.
“Both of our districts have good digital learning programs in place,” said Kourtney. “Combined with the fact school was closed in her town and she had to be socially isolated, we needed to get her home. We were the ones who pulled the plug. The day she flew out, we got word her town had the first confirmed case of coronavirus. The same day, the State Department recommended U.S. citizens get home.”
Going back six years, Emma said she got the idea to study abroad when her family hosted a foreign-exchange student from Norway.
“That happened when I was in the fifth grade,” she said. “I looked up to her, and I thought it was cool to see how she became friends with people here and how she learned our culture. I wanted to experience what she did. I picked South America because it seemed more exotic.”
Emma said she experienced many wonderful things in Brazil before coming home.
“The first four months, August through November, I spent with a family I enjoyed,” she said. “They traveled with me throughout the state of Espirito Santo and were welcoming. December was my most difficult month because I moved to a different family, and it wasn’t a good match. I eventually went back to my first family for January and February and started enjoying it again. In February, I got to experience the Carnival of Brazil.”
She moved to her third family at the beginning of March.
“I enjoyed my last family as well,” she said. “I had a sister in the same grade and a younger brother. It was helpful to discuss the coronavirus with my host mom because she was very knowledgeable about it. I was planning on traveling to Chile, Peru, Iguazu Falls and the Amazon, but all the trips were canceled.”