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Friday, September 8, 2017

Displaced Foreign Exchange Students Find Refuge in Mansfield ISD

Foreign exchange students Marine Torres and Nina Kuepper took flight from Europe at the beginning of the school year to get a taste of the American experience. They were placed in a Houston home, but things took a turn for the worse when Hurricane Harvey hit.

The damage and historic flooding forced 17,000 people in the Gulf Coast areas to go into shelters. Torres and Kuepper were among those who had to evacuate. They later found out that their host families' homes were destroyed, along with all their belongings.

“After the evacuation, we found out from the television that the area was totally flooded, so the house of my family was flooded too,” Torres, from France, recalled. “I felt very sad for the family.”

“We drove to Fort Hood and then to Dallas, and we lived in a hotel for three days. It was a scary experience,” said Kuepper, a Germany native.

Kuepper and Torres also enjoy Byrum's service dog.
They found refuge at the home of a Mansfield High School teacher. Marilyn Byrum has been part of a foster family for 10 years, but decided not to do it this year. That is, until she received an emergency call from the foreign exchange agency. She then jumped at the opportunity.

“The hurricane of a lifetime had just happened, and they have an experience of a lifetime that was about to happen,” Byrum explained. “I didn’t want the hurricane to interfere with their experience of a lifetime because they’ve been looking forward to this year in America.”

The English teacher took the two teenagers shopping to buy more clothes. Torres said she was excited to see the shops, but most amazed by the warm welcome they received.

“People here are very friendly and welcoming. It’s cool,” the exchange student said.

The girls expressed extreme gratitude to Byrum for allowing them to live with her. Byrum said she wouldn’t think twice to do it again.

“Our motivation in life is to help those who are helpless, father the orphaned, care for the refugees, care for the downtrodden,” she said. “They needed help. I had a room. We did what we could."