Giulia Marcello was having an emotionally difficult day Wednesday as she weighed the pros and cons of staying with her host family in Newfoundland and Labrador versus returning home to Italy.
"Everything is just really unknown right now," said Danielle Doyle, the 17-year-old's host parent in Carbonear, where she's stayed since the beginning of September. "The reality of it is, is it safer here in the long run? No one knows that. Italy is going through the worst of it now, but how do we not know that in three weeks Canada won't be going through the worst of it then. It's really unprecedented times."
Marcello is one of several exchange students from Italy staying in Newfoundland and Labrador who were told on Sunday by AFS, the agency responsible for their trip, that they needed to leave and return home earlier than planned. The expectation is she would leave by this Friday. The Grade 12 student is from the island of Sardinia, located west of mainland Italy.
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There was not much initial panic for Marcello as cases of COVID-19 were first reported in Italy, given her family lives on an island. Her father is a physician and Doyle spoke with him last week as the conversation about the pandemic grew more serious in Canada. He said younger people did not have much to worry about. But with time, her family grew more concerned. Marcello's mother told Doyle Sunday they felt it would be best for their daughter to stay in Newfoundland.
Doyle said there are a lot of unanswered questions about what would happen to Marcello once she's back in Italy, including whether she would need to quarantine in Rome (where she has no friends or relatives) or travel to Sardinia. Doyle knows from past experience it can be upsetting seeing a young person return home after building a bond with them over a period of months, but the situation with Marcello is unprecedented for Doyle. She also has an exchange student from China, Gigi Cheng, staying with her. Cheng has not been told to leave early.
"You do everything with them for 10 months, so it's naturally upsetting when they go home and return to their families," she said. "But under these circumstances and not knowing what I'm sending (Marcello) home to, it's very stressful."
Edoardo Spinosa, 17, is an Italian exchange student attending Holy Heart of Mary High School in St. John's. He, too, was told to return to Italy, but would prefer to remain in Newfoundland.
"Italy is going through the worst of it now, but how do we not know that in three weeks Canada won't be going through the worst of it then." — Danielle Doyle
Bruce Gilbert's son, Leó, plays on the school basketball team with Spinosa. Gilbert said his family is among many that would be happy to help Edoardo remain in St. John's instead of returning home to Milan.
"I can tell you right now ... in the case of Edoardo, let's just say there'll be a lineup of people wanting to host Edoardo if, for instance, his current situation can no longer exist because he transfers out of the (student exchange) program."
There were some initial concerns about dealing with health insurance, but Doyle has been able to ensure Marcello would be covered through the Newfoundland International Student Education Program — she credited that group and AFS Intercultural Programs for both being exceedingly helpful.
Meanwhile, Marcello is still deciding what she wants to do.
"One minute she thinks it's best for her to stay, then the next minute she thinks it's best for her to go, because nobody can really tell her what the best thing is," Doyle said. "I still think here is much safer than there, but who am I to say that? I don't know that."