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‘Trying to stay positive:’ 2 Grafton exchange students stuck in the US amid COVID-19, can’t return home

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GRAFTON -- Whether it's posing beside a buck or building a snowman --Juliana Mendez and Jessica Cherin have had a true Wisconsin experience.

"We went to Door County and Onalaska," Mendez said.

The two exchange students spent the past few months as seniors at Grafton High School.

Juliana Mendez and Jessica Cherin

Juliana Mendez and Jessica Cherin

"I just wanted to come to school and experience the whole rest of the year," Mendez said.

But their explorations came to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The girls have handled this very well, having to do virtual learning, something that is new for them because they both love being at school," said Meg Canepa, host mom.

Juliana Mendez and Jessica Cherin

Canepa said the experience has allowed for extra bonding.

"We go for a walk, or we play games, or watch movies," she said. "It's more together time, which is nice."

Though grateful for passing the time while school is out, Mendez and Cherin said their minds are back home with their family. Mendez's home is in Bolivia.

Juliana Mendez and Jessica Cherin

"I think it's best for my family if I go back because my parents are worried," said Mendez.

But she can't go home with airports in Bolivia closed until April 16.

As for Cherin, her concerns lie in Italy.

Juliana Mendez and Jessica Cherin

Juliana Mendez and Jessica Cherin

"I'm sad because my family in Italy are good, but the situation in Italy isn't good, so I'm sad for this, but I'm good because now, here, I'm good," Cherin said.

Canepa said she was continuing to communicate with the girls' families, with the girls aware high school may not end as envisioned.

"I reassured them that we are doing everything we can to keep them safe," Canepa said.

Jessica Cherin

Jessica Cherin

"I wanted to do graduation and prom -- this is my dreams," Cherin said.

These girls will eventually go home with a lesson of togetherness, hospitality and handling adversity.

"I'm trying to stay positive," Mendez said.

Juliana Mendez

Juliana Mendez

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