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Milo Baumann

Swiss foreign exchange student shares experiences of living in U.S. during the pandemic

BUCKHANNON – For students across West Virginia, the last year has been difficult. Schools shut down to in-person learning in March 2020, then switched from in-person learning five days a week to blended learning with two days of in-person learning and two days of distance learning to full remote learning.

With the educational format ever-changing, needless to say, it has been tough on even the most seasoned student.

But what if this was the first time you had been in the United States of America and were trying to learn about this country while also juggling school, quarantine, sports and everything new?

Buckhannon-Upshur High School student Milo Baumann, who is a foreign exchange student from Switzerland, shares what it is like to live in the United States during the pandemic.

During a phone interview with Milo, he shared he is from near Zurich, Switzerland and said his home is about 45 minutes from there. Back in his home country, he said he enjoys playing soccer and playing the piano, and said he enjoys skiing and snowboarding in the Swiss mountains.

“I go to school there and to get to school I take a train,” he said. “Many students in Switzerland use public transportation to get to school because it is very effective, and you are never stuck in traffic.”

While still in his hometown in Switzerland, he said the schools, compared to the U.S., are quite different.

“In Switzerland, we move around in classes with a group of people who always remain the same. We move from class to class, pretty much the same classes, and in general, our lessons are mandatory with very few ‘electives.’ You can choose your classes to a certain point, but most are already selected from year to year.”

Milo said in Switzerland, schools are in session for a lot longer each day.

“We are in classes from 8 a.m. to 4, 5 or 6 p.m. depending on your schedule,” he said, “but we have free time in between our classes – we have breaks during the day.”

He said his school was affected in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, and before coming to the U.S., his schooling during the outbreak was remote learning.

“Starting in March 2020 through summer we had remote learning,” Milo said. “After that, the students went back to in-person learning utilizing masks.”

He said in Switzerland, there are a lot of different classes, saying that he enjoys schools in Buckhannon because students may select classes which align with their interests.

“I think that is one of the biggest differences,” he said. “If I were at home in Switzerland, I would not be able to take art classes. We must choose between music and art classes and at home, I chose music classes. I am really enjoying my art classes here. I always thought I would like to take art lessons. I am trying lots of mixed media classes.”

Milo said his reason for wanting to come to America was he wanted to experience living in another country and learn to speak English.

“I wanted to get the opportunity to meet new people and experience a new culture,” Milo said. “It is great to see the world and experience it from a different perspective.”

Even with the pandemic, Milo said he was able to travel to Disney in Florida in the fall and said during Thanksgiving he was able to vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

“I appreciate that a lot. It was not something I expected, and I appreciate that my host family took me with them to those places,” Milo said. “I also got to go snow tubing and ice skating in Canaan Valley, but have not been skiing yet.”

He said he was able to go to Blackwater Falls State Park and enjoyed Canaan Valley, Davis and Thomas, West Virginia. He said with the soccer team he was able to travel to Morgantown and see lots of West Virginia University.

Milo said he is excited to get back to in-person school.

“When I signed up for an exchange year, I did not think I would be spending most of the year at home in remote learning,” he said. “I am excited for school to start again so I can meet and get to know new people. I am excited to get back to the classroom because I think it is easier to learn in the classroom when being taught by teachers. That is something I am really looking forward to.”

In the future, Milo said he is not sure what he wants as far as college goes.

“When I go back to Switzerland, I will have two more years of school before I decide where I want to go for university,” he said. “My goal is to go and study in the university, but what I want to study is still open.”

Milo said that in his country, soccer is a very popular sport, as it is in all of Europe. He did say, however, that where he is from, soccer is not something connected to the schools.

“It is independent clubs where we play soccer,” he said. “Schools do not offer sports teams that play for the schools. We have physical education in school.”

“I take piano lessons here in Buckhannon from Dr. Melody Meadows,” he said. “In Switzerland, my music lessons are once per week and I take them during school. I also have lessons in school which teach music theory.”

Other differences Milo are that teenagers must wait until they are 18 years old to drive in his home country.

“Here, people drive earlier. In Switzerland, we have good public transportation that allows us to get where we want without having a car. I noticed that very quickly. Also, in Switzerland, there is a cafeteria in the school where you can buy food. My school is in a town about the size of Morgantown – there are a lot of restaurants where you can buy food. The school also provides microwaves and if you bring your own food you can heat it up.”

Milo said he recommends being a foreign exchange student.

“It causes you to grow as a person and you grow your mindset. You see a lot of different things, and I think it is important to know what it is like in places different from your home,” Milo said. “It is definitely a great thing to do and anyone who is thinking about it should definitely try it out.”

Milo lives in Buckhannon with his host family Tom and Megan O’Neill and their five children. Megan said in February 2020, she was contacted by Mandy Neeley, coordinator for the local exchange student program.

“She messaged me there was a student who matched with us,” Megan said, adding that one of their children is talking about wanting to be a foreign exchange student as well.

She said Milo arrived in Buckhannon in August 2020 so he could participate in school and sports.

“One of the stipulations of the program is that where the student goes, they have to attend in-person school at least part of the time,” she said. “Milo is a part of our family; we treat him just like any member of our family, so he gets the full experience of being in the United States in our home. It has been such a blessing to have him here during the time when our kids were not in school. It has been so educational for our kids to learn about a different culture as well. When Christmas was coming up, Milo shared all of the traditions from his home.”

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