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Exchange student worried about return to COVID-19 hotspot

Raquel Mendez Gouardard, pictured here in October,  made the most of her lengthy stay on P.E.I. through the youth exchange program with the Rotary Club of Charlottetown.
Raquel Mendez Gouardard, pictured here in October, made the most of her lengthy stay on P.E.I. through the youth exchange program with the Rotary Club of Charlottetown. - Contributed
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —



Sixteen-year-old Raquel Mendez Goudard is concerned about returning home to Brazil after spending a year in P.E.I.

The teen, who came to Prince Edward Island last August as an exchange student, has watched her native country be devastated by COVID-19.

Brazil is the world’s No. 2 coronavirus hot spot after the United States, with more than 55,000 deaths and over 1.2 million cases. Raquel’s cousin as well as her best friend contracted the virus in Brazil, but fortunately both recovered fully.

Being asthmatic, Raquel is immunocompromised, which puts her at a higher risk of becoming severely ill if she were to contract COVID-19.

“I am very worried about going home," she told The Guardian the day before she was to board a plane to Brazil.

“I have been very stressed … and I am pretty sad to leave P.E.I. because this place is pretty great."

Raquel says she had wanted to go on an exchange trip since she was very little.

She came to P.E.I. under a youth exchange program through the Rotary Club of Charlottetown.

The trip, even with the pandemic raising its ugly head, proved memorable for the Brazilian student.

Raquel learned to communicate “okay" in French after attending a francophone school in Charlottetown.

“It’s a very small school," she says of École Francois-Buote.

“I made friendships very quickly."

She also went to a school dance in the winter that was an incredible and unique experience.

“I really liked the snow," she adds.

“It was very pretty. I remember in December playing in the snow for the first time."

Still, she found a good, old P.E.I. winter to be rather harsh compared to Brazil, where temperatures rarely dip below 20 C.

Raquel stayed with three different host families, taking turns settling down in Rustico, Charlottetown and Victoria-by-the-Sea.

Rotary Club of Charlottetown president Martin Rubin, along with his wife, Leslie-Ann, hosted Raquel for the final leg of the exchange student’s stay.

“Oh, Raquel is a very intelligent, very outgoing young lady who has a real zest for learning … she loves to draw, she loves to find out what is going on in the world," he says.

“She is very engaging. She soaks everything up around her."

Rubin believes Raquel benefitted from the exchange program, which was managed by Rotarians Daphne Dumont and Kim Nickerson.

After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic in March, the Rotary Club of Charlottetown gave Raquel’s parents the option of having Raquel remain in P.E.I. or return to Brazil.

Raquel’s mother, who is a doctor, wanted her daughter to stay put. Raquel agreed with the call.

“I’m just so glad that I decided to stay," she says.

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