Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories about former foreign exchange students who spent time in Redwood Falls and the experiences they have had since returning home and how they are dealing with the current issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2014 Noa Hallensleben left her home in Germany and arrived in Redwood Falls.

Following the 2014-15 school year, she went home.

Since leaving Redwood Falls, Hallensleben graduated from high school and started studying at the university level in Cologne. She is currently pursuing a degree in psychology and has about one year left before graduating.

“Being an exchange student definitely impacted my life in a tremendous way,” explained Hallensleben. “When I returned home, I was a lot more confident, independent and open minded. Meeting so many new people was certainly an enrichment and helped me grow as a person.”

Hallensleben said she has made one return visit, adding she was actually planning to come and visit again this coming summer. So, she is hopeful that things will be mostly back to normal by that time.

Hallensleben said she already has plans to earn a masters degree in psychology, adding, however, she has not yet decided what profession in psychology she wants to pursue.

“I am still figuring that out,” she added.

According to Hallensleben, like everyone else, she first heard about coronavirus in the news when they had the initial cases in China. 

“I honestly did not worry about it a lot, because it was in a different country and didn’t affect my way of life directly,” she explained, admitting she probably did not grasp the severity of it at first.

Hallensleben said she was on a semester break from the university when coronavirus first reached Germany. She was supposed to be doing an internship in psychiatry. That had to be cancelled before it even got started.

Now, her classes are all going to be done online, she added.

“So far my life has been mainly impacted by not being able to follow my plans for college the way I intended to, which might force me to add another year of college to my studies,” explained Hallens-leben, “but considering the circumstances I luckily haven’t been impacted too much so far.”

At this point Germany has not had a complete lockdown in terms of not being allowed to go outside, with the exception of getting groceries or going to work like in Italy, Spain or France. The only limitation has been a contact restriction.

That, Hallensleben explained, means people are allowed to go outside as long as they are not in a group of more than two people – with the exception of families.

“All of our shops are closed, except for grocery stores and pharmacies,” added Hallensleben. “Restaurants are only allowed to deliver food or serve to go.”

Schools and universities are closed, and classes are being done online.

Yes, she added, coronavirus is having an impact on the German economy like it is in other countries.

The good news, Hallensleben explained, is that the government offers good support to the people in terms of receiving monetary compensation when they are not able to work. She said parents who have to stay home to be with their kids because the schools are closed are getting help. The health care system has also been pretty stable, too, she added.

“Getting tested (for coronavirus) is free and done relatively often compared to other countries,” said Hallensleben. “Our hospitals so far have good resources, so that we were able to accept patients from other countries, like Spain, Italy and France that were hit a lot harder.”

Hallensleben believes the reason why the hospitals in Germany have not been strained like others is due to the early contact restrictions. She also thinks those restrictions will be in place for another month to allow for things to get under control.

Hallensleben said she has had a lot more time to read, spend time with family and do the work for her classes. She is looking forward to getting back into the routine of college even though it will be different. Being busy again will be a good thing, she said.

Hallensleben said she has been practicing social distancing, and is contacting her friends online through FaceTime.

Yet, she said there are times when she just needs to go out and get some fresh air. Hallensleben said she is concerned about the future and the impact COVID-19 will have on her way of life if it ever gets back to normal.

“I think this uncertainty of not knowing what is going to happen next is almost as scary as the virus itself,” she added.

It is something she is learning to live with, just like everyone else.