Pamplin Media Group – Studying abroad during the time of COVID

Thomas Schaper, who is studying at Estacada High School, is selected as ICES student of the month

It’s been an unusual year to be a foreign exchange student, but Thomas Schaper is enjoying his time in Estacada.

Schaper, 16, of Berlin, Germany, has been selected as the International Cultural Exchange Services student of the month for January. He is staying with the Rex family in Estacada and attending Estacada High School. Schaper is one of 600 high school exchange students who came to the United States through ICES this school year.

Just one week after arriving in Estacada, Schaper and his host family had to evacuate because of the Clackamas County Wildfires, one of which came within a half mile of city limits. Schaper and the Rexes stayed at a hotel and then with relatives before the evacuation order was lifted. Schaper credits the experience with helping him bond with his host family.

Though classes at Estacada High School have been online because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Schaper has appreciated his time at Estacada High School.

“I was very happy to start school, even though it was online,” he said, adding that he’s been able to make friends by texting his classmates. “I’m lucky to be at Estacada High School. Teachers help a lot, and the school is really friendly to exchange students. Even though it’s online, it’s still pretty fun.”

Several weeks after the first day of school, Schaper participated in an event called Senior Sunrise. He and his classmates woke up at 3:15 a.m. and gathered to watch the sun rise. He described it as one of the most special memories of his exchange.

Schaper also participated in an abbreviated basketball season this fall, during which participants wore face masks. He hopes to play in a longer season this spring.

Schaper has enjoyed visiting the Oregon Coast and other locations around the state with his family. He’s been particularly impressed with Oregon’s trees.

“I’m really tall (just shy of 6-feet, 6-inches) but it’s amazing to see trees here that are even taller than me,” he said.

Halfway through the experience, Schaper credits his exchange year with making him more independent. Back in Germany, his younger brother has applied to participate in an exchange with ICES this fall.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made his experience in the United States different from what he expected, but Schaper has enjoyed it.

“It’s different than I thought (my exchange) would be, but I think it’s great. Even though I can’t do some of the stuff I wanted to do, I’ve grown really close to my host family and they feel like family,” he said.

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