From almost the moment he got off the train to meet his host family in the small village of Zeegwitz, Germany, Ethan Kelley of Greensburg felt an immediate connection.
It was an opportunity of a lifetime for him to spend the 2019-2020 school year abroad through the American Field Service student exchange program.
He was even hoping to do some traveling to France during a break.
But those plans were looking dim in January 2020 when COVID-19 began spreading across the continent.
“It was a bigger thing in Europe than it was in the United States at the time, but I didn’t think that it would escalate like it did,” he said. “It wasn’t until March 13 that I realized that I was probably going to go home.”
Two days later, he was on his way back.
The trip was cut short, but Kelley is not short on memories of his experience with his host family, Nicole Mueller and her teenage sons, ages 13 and 19.
“I was right in the middle of them, and it was really nice to see how the younger children in Germany act, the games they play, how they interact with friends, and then at the same time to see how the young adults act,” Kelley said. “We were also with the grandmother, so it was good to see the lives of people of different ages.”
Kelley, 17, is the son of David and Rebecca Kelley of Greensburg and has an older brother Caleb.
He is graduating this year from Greensburg Salem High School and will be studying international business at Chatham University in Pittsburgh.
“The experience in Germany allowed me to more easily empathize and take into account other people’s ways of life, and the thought processes behind what drives their actions,” he said. “I would 100 percent recommend an AFS program.”