It was going to be the summer of a lifetime. Seven Ohio 4-H youth from around the state had been preparing for over six months to travel overseas with the Ohio 4-H International Program this year when, quite literally, disaster struck.
“I remember seeing a brief reference in the news on January 20 about a virus that was sickening people in various countries,” said Mary Lynn Thalheimer, program director. “I emailed my boss about it, writing ‘Fingers crossed this does not turn into a major concern worldwide.’”
Just 48 days later, on March 9, the 2020 4-H international program was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The effects of the coronavirus and subsequent quarantines around the world affected the entire Ohio 4-H community, but the youth scheduled to travel abroad this summer were the first to feel the impact. Due to the international nature of their upcoming 4-H experience, the decision not to proceed came earlier than the cancellation of state and county programs.
“We started getting emails in February, saying there was a chance we wouldn’t get to travel,” said Doshia Scheer, a Franklin County 4-H’er scheduled to travel to Japan for one month in July. When The Ohio State University canceled all OSU student international travel, 4-H youth were included in that decision.
“My mom showed up at my school during musical practice one night, and I could see that she was crying,” said Max Schmiesing from Shelby County “When she told me I wouldn’t be going to Costa Rica this summer, it was shocking. It was really heartbreaking.”
Both youths, along with five others in Ohio, had been chosen through a highly competitive process to live with host families overseas. Both were set to live with the international sister or brother who had visited their Ohio home last year.
Max’s mother, Christina Schmiesing, said she was proud of the way her son handled the disappointment of not traveling abroad. He told her, “You know, Mom, I realize this is a first-world problem. Going to Costa Rica was going to be an amazing gift that most people would never get to experience. There are people in the world who are dying and really suffering from this virus.’”
Generous donors to the Ohio 4-H program provide partial scholarships to each selected youth, a gift much appreciated by participants. Fortunately, the seven Ohioans will have the opportunity to travel next summer and use those scholarships. “If I could talk to those donors, I would just thank them so much,” said Doshia. “Because of them I might have the chance to see a place and explore a culture I never would have been able to visit.”
Although not traveling abroad this summer, Ohio’s participants are finding other ways to keep an international focus in their lives. Max is reading the Travel and Leisure magazines that his parents have subscribed to for years. He is also practicing Spanish and learning additional information about Costa Rica. Doshia is keeping in touch with her Japanese sister and going online to learn about various wonders of the world as a way to fill her insatiable curiosity about other countries.
Doshia shared that a Japanese proverb, “It cannot be helped,” has been a source of comfort as she has adjusted to not traveling this summer. In addition, she is focusing on her family and friends and making everyday experiences special.