Photo by Elizabeth Farina: Fery Sandria of Indonesia, center, with fellow Community High student Lissa Lüer of Germany, right, Clover Hill High School student Simon Kuhnl of Czech Republic, and Clover Hill High School student Alessandra Burmeister of Germany.
by Elizabeth Farina
The normal upheaval of being a student in the Council on International Education Exchange program had a profound effect on one student. When Fery Sandria’s study-abroad scholarship ends, he will return to Indonesia, but not to a home. His family’s coastal home in Southern Sumatra was destroyed in a magnitude 7.6 earthquake on Wednesday, Sept. 30.
“Recently, it’s been a hard time for me, and I’m just remembering my family, and yes, my family members are OK. But, yes, my home is broken and, I mean, we can’t live in the home any more,” he said. His parents are currently living with relatives and his older siblings and their families are safe in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.
Fery, who attends Richmond Community, has been relying on the strong friendships he’s made here in Richmond in the past few months of the program. Two of Fery’s best friends were killed in the quake. Several other exchange students in the program have reached out to him.
According to a United Nations report, over 700 people died, nearly 300 people are still missing and approximately 2,200 people were injured, with severe damage to 121,000-plus homes in the Sumatra province. “Last month, more than six big earthquake in one month and thousands [of] little earthquakes,” Fery said.
Fery, with fellow Community High student Lissa Lüer of Germany, Clover Hill High School student Simon Kuhnl of Czech Republic, and Clover Hill High School student Alessandra Burmeister of Germany, has been adjusting to American culture in Richmond and Midlothian for the last few months. Humor, and the bold confidence that led them to become international exchange students, has helped the 17-year-olds plow into school at Clover Hill High and Richmond Community regardless of what is going on in the world. The nervous laughter from four teenagers sitting at the dining room table filters through the hall of CIEE coordinator Becky Bell’s historic Victorian-period home – historic at least by American standards.
Some of the difficulty, besides holding continuous conversation in a second language, is finding a way to fit into the American high school scene. “The differences between American and European culture – some are quite huge and some are small – I’m trying to just present them about the world on the other side,” said Simon, a student at Clover Hill High School.
However, the exchange students know that being homesick will be remedied when they return home to their countries in the spring. The students recognize that Fery’s grief is a burden he will not have to carry alone. Alessandra, Simon, and others have reached out to let Fery know they support him. “Lissa and Peter [Vaculciak] have been very helpful to make me better at this time. Lissa just say, ‘We grieve together.’ She was like, ‘You are not alone.’ That makes me better,” Fery said.
His best friend from school was killed when falling brick struck her. “And she is a good Muslim. She was in the hospital for four days and then she’s gone. She is my best friend from school. We join all competition together and we are teammates in debate. About two weeks ago write me in Facebook, can you bring me a key chain of Virginia stuff. I bought it for her. And then,” Fery said as his voice trailed off.
He can no longer look at the key chain. However, Fery remains committed to fulfilling the program. Over 36,000 students in his country applied for the opportunity for the US State Department YES program. “The main purpose of the program is to build relationships between Muslim country and the USA. Our country is 180 degrees different than USA. Some things are very hard. I love challenges,” he said with resolve.
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