By Tellie Kumar
One year. The time it takes for the Earth to make one revolution around the sun, the time it takes for 365 days of 24 hours each to pass and the time it takes to learn a whole different language and culture through Rotary Youth Exchange, a yearlong exchange program intended to promote international understanding and peace through exposure to different cultures. Youth Exchange gives thousands of young people between the ages of 16 and 18 the opportunity to experience a completely different lifestyle.
Youth Exchange applicants go through a series of interviews, a rigorous, time-consuming application and a long training process to prepare them for a year abroad. When applying, students indicate their preferred country and the district attempts to place them in their country of choice. It’s a three year program: the outbound year – the year before exchange when participants learn about what it takes to be an exchange student, the inbound year – the year students spend in their selected country, and the rebound year – on return, students are expected to make presentations and recruit new outbound participants. However, it is said the actual year abroad is by far the most difficult part of the program.
On exchange, students are required to learn the language of their designated country, make an honest effort at school in a foreign country, live with two or three host families, make friends and adapt to the new culture. It may sound like loads of fun and freedom for a whole year, but many call it the best, and worst, year of their lives. Brave students leave their friends and families and everything they’ve ever known to go to an unfamiliar place with a different language, different customs and different people. Exchange students often encounter stress, homesickness and culture shock.
However, most Youth Exchange students love their year abroad. It’s a unique opportunity to be immersed in a different culture, make lifelong friendships and to experience feelings and events that are once in a lifetime. Students learn about a new country, about relationships and about themselves. They also acquire new skills throughout exchange like how to problem solve, how to understand and work with people who are different and how to adjust to change. Many students say that the skills they learn on exchange are what prepare them for college and the rest of their future.
These young students are also ambassadors of America. While on exchange, students are asked about the American culture. What is your government like? Why do you eat so much unhealthy food? Can you describe your school? These are all common questions that young students need to be ready to give a satisfying answer to. These kids represent America,
American youth in particular, and need to be able to portray young Americans in a positive light.
Rotary Youth Exchange is a year of adventure. It is one year of challenges, one year of independence and one year of endless opportunities. Sure, it’s only 365 days, but one year abroad can be the experience of a lifetime.