Wisconsin student heads home to Chile amidst tragedyWhen Ana Cortes awoke Saturday morning, she was looking forward to enjoying a final quiet weekend in her temporary home here.
By: By Jeff Holmquist , Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
NEW RICHMOND, Wis. — When Ana Cortes awoke Saturday morning, she was looking forward to enjoying a final quiet weekend in her temporary home here.
What she didn’t expect was hearing frightening news from her homeland, Chile, concerning a deadly earthquake.
That morning, Cortes, a junior foreign exchange student at New Richmond High School, received a quick e-mail from her parents in Santiago, Chile saying that they were all right. They reported that they’d felt the earthquake but they didn’t think it was too severe.
Minutes later, Cortes said, reports about the strong 8.8 magnitude quake started hitting the television news.
“When I saw the news, it was much bigger than I imagined,” she said. “I just thank God that my family is OK.”
Later on Saturday, Cortes said she was able to have a video chat with her family via the Internet. Cortes found out that her hometown, which is about a five- to six-hour drive from epicenter of the earthquake, was pretty much spared.
Several uncles, who live closer to the more severely damaged regions, suffered some damage to their homes and businesses, she said.
Because school students in Chile are currently on break, Cortes said she doesn’t know how her friends and their families have fared through the tragedy. She worries that some may have traveled to the city and potentially could have been in danger.
“It was a hard weekend for me,” Cortes said. “You feel frustration because you don’t know anything. You don’t know what happened to friends.”
Cortes should be home soon, however, and she’ll be able to find out more about the situation.
She was scheduled to take a flight into Chile on Tuesday. Although some flights have been canceled in and out of the country, Cortes said she remains hopeful that her airplane will be able to land.
“I’m going to take a chance,” she said.
While she wasn’t too homesick before, Cortes said she is now.
“I want to know what’s going on,” she said. “I want to be home.”
Even though she’s anxious to be reunited with her family, Cortes said she has had great experiences while in New Richmond.
“It was the best six months of my life,” she said. “I think I learned a lot, and I learned a lot about myself. I’m really glad I came here.”
Cortes’ exchange stay was shortened by several months in order for her to begin her senior year in Chile (which is slated to start in March).
As of right now, the earthquake should not have an impact on the school’s starting date, even though the start of many school years in the country have been delayed due to the tragedy.
Looking back over the past six months, Cortes said she’s enjoyed living in the cold environment and getting to know the people of New Richmond.
“I’ve enjoyed all the sports things and all the school activities,” she said. “And I’ve enjoyed all the Rotary activities. I enjoy the life of the American people. There are always many things to do.”
She isn’t too upset about leaving the American diet behind, noting that she didn’t like the food when she first arrived here.
“But in the end, you get used to it,” she said.
Cortes said she is also looking forward to returning to a big city where transportation is a little easier for people.
When she’s wanted to go somewhere while in New Richmond, Cortes said she’s had to bum a ride from someone.
“That always made me feel kind of guilty,” she said. “I’m used to being a little more independent.”
Cortes attended her final noon meeting of the Rotary Club of New Richmond on Monday and thanked everyone for their support through the school year.
Rotary President Troy Boe presented Cortes with a gift from the club, and also a warm hug goodbye.
Jeff Holmquist is a reporter at the New Richmond (Wis.) News, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.