OXFORD, Miss. — Students at Oxford High School staged a farewell parade Wednesday for an exchange student from Spain who's in the United States through a prestigious scholarship and now forced to return home because of the coronavirus outbreak.
It was an emotional day for 17-year-old exchange student Paula Garcia-Serrano from Spain.
She wiped away tears as a vehicle parade of fellow Oxford High School students passed her Oxford home and shouted out goodbyes.
Garcia-Serrano, a junior at Oxford High School, has been told she must return to Spain, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I found out in an email that we all had to go back to Spain," Garcia-Serrano said. "All the people in my program, in my scholarship, we couldn't take a position. It was mandatory, and we just had to go back without any options."
Teachers and students quickly put together a drive-by parade, as they said would be the safest way to express their feelings about Garcia-Serrano's sudden departure.
"We all just wanted to come out and make sure we said goodbye to her, so that she knows how important she was to us, even though she's just been here for one year, and her time with us was really important," Oxford High School French teacher Chelsea Winnick said.
Garcia-Serrano's host mother said she contacted Spanish authorities and was told Garcia-Serrano could lose her accreditation for this year if she doesn't return.
"We have tried to fight it, and we're curious about health concerns, her health concerns traveling on a plane, and going back to Spain, where obviously the virus is pretty rampant over there," host parent Stephanie Laporte said.
Garcia-Serrano feels she would be safer quarantined in Oxford and said her family in Spain is concerned for her safety.
"I'm so sad that I have to leave, but I'm leaving with the best feeling because I feel loved by everyone," she said.
Garcia-Serrano is expected to leave from Memphis on Thursday. Her home is in southeast Spain.