Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Youth Exchange

My father joined Rotary when I was in junior high.  For any of you who do not know what Rotary is, it is an international organization focused on basically making the world a better place.  One of their biggest programs is the Youth Exchange Program.  Because I was only 17 when I graduated high school, I really didn't feel ready to go to college.  Apparently, however, living in a foreign country for a year was a valid alternative.

That year was one of the best of my life.  Being able to LIVE the life of a French person for a year is an experience I would love to live again and again.  I went to school there, I lived with host families, I traveled, I ate TONS of brioche and nutella...

One of the Rotary mottos I learned during my experiences was, "If every 17 year old in the world went on exchange, there would be no more wars."  I believe this with my whole heart.  Going on exchange opened my eyes to a world I had no idea was out there.  Rather than just being a citizen of a tiny town in Wisconsin, I became a global citizen. 

As teachers, it is important that we help open doors for our students.  It's not just about aiding in their classroom experiences.. it's about showing them the world that is out there as well.  Urge your students to put their skills to the test and see other places.  It doesn't have to be an entire year.. even a few weeks is better than nothing (granted.. I found that my year in France costed only about 50% more than what the annual three-week trip my high school took costed)...

For those students who WOULD do well with a year abroad, talk to them about it! Give them information.  Plant the seed EARLY!  No parent wants to have their child come to them and say, "Mom...dad... I want to spend a year abroad.  Oh.. by the way...my 20 page application is due next week." (I did that.. thankfully they were 100% supportive of me going abroad, so it was a rush they were thrilled to make for me).  I discuss the option with my 9th graders every fall, as MOST students would be applying in fall of their 10th grade year.  It gives them a year to discuss it with their parents, get some more information, maybe visit a Rotary club or two.

Obviously I am biased and will always suggest Rotary.  The biggest reason being that they are 100% not for profit (unlike other exchange companies) and they have networks all around the world.  There is a major support system and students generally get the opportunity to stay with multiple host families in a year (thus giving them different perspectives).  After all, not all American families live the same, right?  Why would it be any different abroad?

There are other programs as well.  I highly recommend checking with your school guidance counselor or even doing a quick Google search for other programs that do exchanges in your area.  As always, I'm happy to give information as well, so don't hesitate to ask questions in the comments! 

Photo from chs.d211.org

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