Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rotary Youth Exchange

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.
I was excited, but also incredibly nervous. First of all because I hadn’t been skiing since I was about 8—and I am not the most coordinated person to begin with—and more importantly because I would have to go all alone. I have lived in the same house and gone to school with the same group of kids my entire life. I have never been the new kid or walked into a place without knowing a single person. I started to wonder how I would handle being alone in another country if I couldn’t even manage it here. However, when my dad dropped me off at the hotel, my fears were quickly put to rest. I walked into a room with all the other kids—both future exchange students like me and current exchange students. I just started talking to people.
 I felt like I had some sort of unspoken connection with these people. They got it. They got that this weird, confusing, awkward world we call high school is not all there is. They got that we are capable of so much more if we are willing to go out and work for what we want. In the two days that I was there, I made some great friends—from California, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador. I even discovered an unknown talent for skiing!

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.
My family went to the meeting and I stood up and spoke in front of some very important people including the mayor of Laguna Niguel (picture below).
I was nervous, but after they all told me how proud they were of me and how they wished me well, I felt like I had a great support system. I have also been invited to two Rotary district conferences where I learn about other Rotary programs for teenagers and tell people about how the Rotary Youth Exchange program has provided me with this great opportunity.

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.
Then we sat in a conference room all day and talked about everything from homesickness and how to deal with it to applications for visas. Many of the current exchange students were there, and during breaks and at the pool that night, they gave us their own personal advice about what to do on an exchange (slightly less polished than the advice printed in the handbook) and words of wisdom. Each of us outbound students was expected to give a speech about our goals for the exchange the next morning. Mine included being open to new things and new ideas, gaining self confidence and people skills, and seizing hold of every opportunity that presented itself to me. I don’t want to miss out on anything just because I am a little shy or nervous. Then, the Rotary counselors wished us well and the last orientation was over.

I am expected to send monthly reports back to my Rotary counselor Sug (picture below) while I am abroad.
Also, when I get back I will return to the Laguna Niguel Rotary Club to give them a speech about my experience. And, of course, I will thank them for the amazing experience that I couldn’t have had without them.


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