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International students finish school in Albuquerque

Mohammad Abdellah stands beside a sign recognizing him as a member of the Menaul School class of 2020.. (Courtesy of Julie Webb)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Mohammad Abdellah thought after he finished his milestone senior year at Menaul School that he would be traveling back home to Egypt, seeing his family and telling them in person about the memories he made.

His trip back home would be a significant one – the summer between graduating high school and returning to the U.S. to study computer science at the University of New Mexico.

But as the 18-year-old’s senior year was wrapping up, COVID-19 changed everything.

Like many seniors, he missed out on the traditions and finished high school online, but he also hasn’t been able to travel home.

“I don’t have the option to go back to Egypt,” he said. “Currently, flights are suspended.”

Julie Webb, Menaul School’s residential life coordinator, said when schools shut down in New Mexico, students in the international program had the option of staying in the dorms, living with host families or returning home, if possible.

For all of the school’s middle and high school students, classwork was moved online.

“We gave them the option to stay on campus because a lot of them didn’t have anywhere to go – the borders were shut down and they didn’t have family and friends in the United States they could go to,” Webb told the Journal.

About 20 students, including Abdellah, finished out the year in the private school dorms.

Webb said cleaning procedures were ramped up and students living in the dorms had to mostly stay on campus for the duration of the school year.

For some, Menaul School was the safest option.

Carlos Fuentes, 18, decided it was more prudent to stay in Albuquerque rather than travelling back home to Spain. And that’s why his classmate Lucy Liang didn’t return to China.

“Spain was one of the worst countries with cases and death rates. So it was much safer for me to stay in Albuquerque,” he said. “If I were to go back, it would be a risk going through many airports.”

Fuentes came to Menaul in his sophomore year, going back to Spain every summer and for holidays.

He wanted to go back this summer – which he is still hoping to do – but he has held off because he doesn’t want to chance a trip home during the pandemic.

“I really wanted to be with my family, but since I care so much about them, I didn’t want to be a risk factor and I didn’t want to put anyone in danger,” he said.

Fuentes said he is close with his host family, who have been very supportive. And students in the dorms are making the most of the situation with games and activities.

Still, nothing could have prepared him for the circumstances.

“I pictured my senior year ending with the track season and celebrating in the graduation ceremony with my friends, going out to a restaurant and having nice food,” Fuentes said.

It was also a whirlwind of change for Abdellah.

“Honestly, it was kind of tough because I was looking forward to making a lot of memories this year since it’s my senior year. But I didn’t get to do any of that – I haven’t seen my classmates in two months except for the dorm students,” he said.

With travel advisories in place, he hasn’t been able to see his parents either. Instead, he calls and speaks to them for an hour each day.

“They’re really upset because they really miss me and I do miss them, too … All we can do is pray for each other and talk to each other on the phone,” he said.


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