By Katie R.
Buffalo Seminary educates boarding students from all around the world. Right now there are students from the Bahamas, Canada, China, Mexico, Kenya, South Korea, and Vietnam. However, when the Covid-19 pandemic first struck many were unable to return to their home countries. While stranded in the United States, they were forced to stay with other families in possibly unfamiliar houses. Yet for one student, Phuong Ha ’21, that meant finding a home away from home in Buffalo and forming lifelong and lasting bonds with the Schmidt family.
During her freshman year, Aubrey (Bre) Schmidt ’22 began talking to Phuong about her plans for spring break and discovered that she was looking for a place to stay. After asking her parents, the Schmidt family agreed to welcome Phuong into their home over the break. It is common for residential students to stay with generous host families for breaks if they are unable to return to their home countries. In the words of Bre, “I did not want her to be alone at the dorms with nowhere to go.” Phuong continued to stay with the Schmidts for all of her breaks beginning her sophomore year and Bre’s freshman year. However, when Covid-19 began in the spring of her junior year she needed a place to stay for a longer period of time. She needed a home. Once again, the Schmidt family opened their doors to her and she stayed with them over quarantine and the summers of 2021 and 2022.
Phuong has not been able to make it back to her home country of Vietnam since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but luckily she now has a second family here in America. In her own words she says, “As a residential student, I had to adjust myself to life in America before I met the Schmidt family. However, since I have been staying with them for quite a while, I feel really connected to the family. They always try to introduce me to as many new things as possible, so I’m very familiar with American culture. It’s like I have a home in America now to go back after a tough time at school.” This feeling is mutual as Bre says, “For the first few times, we were still getting to know Phuong, what she liked, what she did not like, when she would talk to her family so we wouldn’t bother her, and so much more. Over time, we all warmed up with each other and she is now like another family member to us. To me, she’s like a sister, to my parents she’s like a daughter, and to my aunts and uncles, she’s like a niece. She is a part of our family.”
This is a bond that was formed with countless shared memories. Now a student at Ithaca College, when Phuong was still looking at what schools to apply to and where to attend, the Schmidts took her on trips so that she could tour and make her decision. They celebrated Lunar New Year together so that Phuong could feel more comfortable and at home. When going on trips to Florida and to Canandaigua Lake, Phuong went along too and participated in various activities such as fishing, kayaking with manatees, and of course, eating lots of ice cream. And finally when it was time to drop Phuong off at college, Bre’s mother Julie Schmidt ’83 says, “Moving Phuong into her dorm gave me the same anxious feeling as moving one of my own children into their dorms. The worry of ‘Will she be ok?’, ‘Will she find friends?’ I periodically check in with her and look forward to her breaks so she can come ‘home.’”
Yet, even now that Phuong has moved out she continues to be a part of their family. She recalls when “They sent me a package full of pictures and snacks after I first moved into college. Everything about college was still new to me and I didn’t know a lot of people there, but when I received the package and the letter inside saying something like they missed me and that I could come back anytime I wanted, I just needed to tell them and they would come pick me up. It was really heart warming.” Phuong continues to stay with them over college breaks and now has a home away from home and a second family in America if she ever needs.