LEE’S SUMMIT, MO (KCTV) - Everything has changed for a 17-year-old exchange student. Not only is her school one of so many in the metro that have shut down, she’s being told her dream trip to the U.S. has to be cut short before the school year is even over.
“For now, it’s safer being here then going back to Italy, my country,” exchange student Erminia Marino said.
The past couple of weeks have been a lesson in life no one signed up for. Marino and her host family have only been able to watch images of her home country as they battled COVID-19 weeks before it arrived here in the U.S.
“There are like so many cases down there and yeah it’s not safe,” Marino said.
The exchange student has been attending Lee Summit High School since the beginning of the school year and says she’s been loving it, meeting new friends and being an only child to her host parents.
“It’s like a new experience for me. A little bit stressful maybe at the beginning because of the language. I’m trying to understand all the things the teacher was asking,” Marino said.
“I think she will admit that I’m very similar to her mom, so she’s like when she pushes back, I’m like what would your mom do, OK I may be the same, but it’s been great, it’s been an amazing experience,” host parent Shawn Kalwei said.
That amazing experience came to a screeching halt when the family got a letter last week saying Erminia’s time in the country was up, six weeks earlier than planned. Both her family in Italy and host family think it’s safer to stay.
“We don’t know what’s gonna happen in the U.S., but we know that we can protect her. If we put her on a plane, she has been in Rome for two weeks, we cannot protect her,” Kalwei said.
Here’s the other problem: Erminia will need to fly into Rome, which is seven hours from her home region of Calabria. With her family on lockdown, they can’t just hop in the car and make the day drive to get her, so there’s a chance she’ll be stuck in Rome for days if not weeks.
“My husband and I in good conscience, cannot be on board with that at all,” Kalwei said.
That’s why Shawn Kalwei and her husband are fighting it every step of the way.
“The natural parent should have the say in what happens with her child if her mother is saying I do not want my child put on a plane, I do not want her returning home. We should be able to honor that,” Kalwei said.
Kalwei said she won’t rest until she’s done everything she can.
“A White House liaison to the state department, we’re now talking to DHS, we’re trying to get in front of Senator Blunt because this is the right thing to do,” Kalwei said.
KCTV5 News reached out to AFS, the company that runs the exchange program. They said they can’t comment on individual cases. We also sent them a list of general questions and are still waiting to hear back.