My next big hurdle was finding an exchange program that was right for me. This turned out to be incredibly easy. Maya Frost, author of The Global Student, had mentioned in the book that she had sent her kids abroad through Rotary Youth Exchange. I figured that she hadn’t steered me wrong yet, so I called the Laguna Niguel Rotary Club, told them what I wanted to do, and from there I basically just sat back and let the ball roll. I was amazed by how easily and quickly they responded with all the information I needed and paperwork I had to fill out. I learned more about the details of the study abroad process. I would be gone for ten months, and during that time I would live with 2-3 host families, attend high school, and attend local Rotary Club activities with the other Rotary Youth Exchange students in the area. I could tell how eager these people were to support me and give me this opportunity of a lifetime, and I knew that I had chosen the right program for me.
My first step was to fill out the very long and in-depth (so much work) written application. Then I received an email telling me that my first official study abroad orientation would be held at the end of January in Big Bear.
It wasn’t all fun and games at the Big Bear weekend. On Friday morning, all 14 of us future exchange students sat down for an orientation. We learned more specifics about the trip, and we got lots of tips for how to behave with our host family and what to except throughout our exchange. Then, things got a little nerve wracking. We were split into two groups, and my group was taken into another room. We had to take the dreaded current events test. Since as exchange students we are sort of ambassadors for the United States, we are expected to know enough about our own country to be able to answer questions intelligently and represent the United States properly. Let’s just say that I may have a few facts to brush up on before I leave (I didn’t know who the governor of California was…). Then we went into the next room, where there were 7 interview stations set up. We were able to submit a preference of countries we would like to go to—mine were Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador—but the final decision is up to the organizers, who planned to interview us and then put us in a country we would be compatible with. They finished the interview, went into a room and made the decisions, and then refused to tell us. Worst cliffhanger ever! I didn’t know I was going to Chile until I received a call from Sug, my Rotary counselor, about a month later.
I quickly became the Laguna Niguel Rotary Club’s Rotary Youth Exchange representative. I was asked to give a speech about the Rotary Youth Exchange program to the Laguna Niguel Rotary Club.
A few months later, in December, it was time for the second orientation. All of the future exchange students and our families met at a hotel in Camarillo for two jam packed days of learning about exchange. This was the time when all of the specifics were addressed. We received our Rotary gear—blazers, polo shirts, business cards, patches, and pins.
I am expected to send monthly reports back to my Rotary counselor Sug (picture below) while I am abroad.