Local foreign exchange student ordered to return home to Finland amid pandemic


PHELPS, N.Y. (WROC) — Milla Immonen is from Helsinki, Finland but has been staying with a local family in Phelps this semester. She planned to stay until June, but on Wednesday she got an email informing her she has to return home on Friday- three months earlier than planned.

She has three different flights- one into Miami, Washington, then Finland.

“Traveling is really scary because obviously that’s not a good thing for you right now and for me I have three different flights which is even worse,” Milla said.

She’s been staying with Dawn Cheney and her family through AFS Intercultural Programs.

“They usually start preparing now, in March, for departure in June and they have that time to go through all those emotions of leaving and packing and goodbyes, but with the quarantine there’s no way to do any of that,” said Dawn.

AFS decided to send students back to their home countries saying this on its website:

Because the COVID-19 virus is moving so rapidly, and the ensuing global health crisis is evolving in unexpected ways, we believe it is in the best interest of participants to return to their families in their home countries.

Even though Milla wants to- staying put isn’t an option. AFS already booked her flights which means her visa is now expired. There isn’t enough time to apply for a new one.

Milla said she’s just trying to enjoy these last moments.

“We’re having one last family dinner which is really nice and important to me.”

Milla’s mom will be waiting for her at the airport in Finland but she won’t have anyone waiting for her at her first two flights like she usually would. Dawn said she’ll be keeping in touch with Milla throughout the trip.

The AFS said they consider the following when sending students back home:

  • If a host country government deems it allowable for students to leave
  • If a home country government is willing to accept students to come back
  • If travel restrictions allow for travel

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