The status of Japanese students attending Red Deer high schools has been thrown into limbo by COVID-19.
The students are being ordered to return home after Red Deer schools went online because of the new coronavirus.
But some of the teenagers say they feel safe here and want to remain in Canada until the end of the school year.
Grade 10 student Yuki Uchimura said he intended to stay on with his host family to the end of June.
Yuki’s family in Japan also feels this is the best course of action while people around the globe hunker down in their homes to avoid contracting the flu-like illness with a higher death rate than influenza.
But the Japanese agency that arranged his foreign educational stint told him that his flight home will likely be arranged next week.
Stephan Weninger, who’s hosted Yuki since last August, isn’t sure why Yuki has to leave.
“I feel Yuki is safe here, and he’s been excellent about self-isolating,” said Weninger. “His parents feel confident about his safety here, too.”
But a translation of an email Yuki received from the agency that arranged his Canadian educational stint states that the program is recalling students, and that they will arrange for travel and let the students know when their flights are booked.
The Red Deer Public School District has told host families nothing is yet known about what will happen with Japanese students that decide to stay on.
“Yuki has been a full member of the family since he got here in August,” said Weninger.
The teenager from Fukuoka, Japan, even joined the Red Deer clan for a Christmas vacation in Mexico “and the whole extended family has welcomed him like a new cousin…
“Hopefully, he gets to stay until the end of term,” added Weninger.
But flight plans aside, Weninger is grateful “the whole family, Yuki included, is safe and healthy.”
Yuki has loved his Canadian experience, including attending high school here.
Teachers “are very friendly and kind. I made a lot of friends in class and symphonic band,” Yuki said, and he feels his communications skills in English have improved.
So far, he’s watched about 10 Japanese students leave. One of them, Honami Nakakuma, was to fly back to Okayama, Japan, on Monday after being in Canada for 14 months.
The situation with the virus “is so depressing,” said Honami, who enjoyed making friends with Canadians, experiencing nature in Canada — as well as the snow, which is scarce in Japan.
She remains hopeful she can return to start classes at Red Deer College in the fall.