Youth Exchange students share tips


Imagine leaving your home to move to another country, live with a new family, and communicate every day in a foreign language. Each year, more than 8,000 Rotary Youth Exchange students do exactly that, packing up their suitcases, boarding an airplane, and traveling abroad for as long as a year.

Long-term exchange students, who range in age from 15 to 19, attend a local school, taking exams and receiving grades just like their peers. They live with several host families, attend Rotary club meetings, and take part in Youth Exchange activities.

At the end of their exchange year, a group of 2008-09 Youth Exchange participants offered their thoughts on making the most of this adventure. The students were part of the Central States Rotary Youth Exchange, which encompasses 17 districts and 825 Rotary clubs in the U.S. Upper Midwest and the southern part of Ontario, Canada.

For one, the biggest surprise about North America was "free drink refills." Another noted, with a flash of insight, "The 7-Eleven stores are not very convenient." Here are a few other tips to pass along to Youth Exchange students:

Stay active. While it may be tempting for students to stay in their room, Skyping with friends back home, they'll feel at home faster if they get involved.

  •  "Keep busy, especially at school. I played soccer and badminton and sang in the choir." (Seok Hyun Nam, 18, Korea)
  • "Get out of the role of 'foreign kid.' Be interested and involved." (Paul Garcin, 18, France)
  • "Don't try to live the life of former exchange students; make your own memories. It's just one year, so live it to the fullest." (Tebogo Kganye, 17, South Africa)

Conquer your fears. Moving far from home, making new friends, and speaking at Rotary club meetings can be scary stuff – but that's what Youth Exchange is all about.

  • "Be open minded. It will be hard at times, but it will be worth it." (Priscila Leontsinis, 18, Brazil)
  • "Don't give up, even if it's always you who has to call friends to do something those first few months." (Johannes Bock, 17, Germany)
  • "Keep trying new things. The more you learn, the easier it will get." (Emily Wang, 17, Taiwan)

Keep talking. This was the No. 1 piece of advice. Talking helps students learn the language and helps hosts get to know them and their culture. It's also a much more practical way of communicating than mind-reading.

  • "Don't be shy; your goal is to exchange cultures. Talk with new friends and your host family often." (Achamaporn Punnanitinont, 16, Thailand)
  • "Talk about everything – the things that make you happy and sad, and what you like and dislike." (Claire Young, 18, Australia)
  • "No one is going to yell at you if you say something wrong. Always be confident." (Javiera Inzunza Noack, 18, Chile)