My Rotary Youth Exchange — this year has opened my eyes

Victoria Alvarez and other youth exchange students during their trip to the West Coast of the United States.

Victoria Alvarez and other youth exchange students during their trip to the West Coast of the United States.

By Victoria Alvarez, a Rotary Youth Exchange student from Argentina to the United States

Most of you have probably heard of Rotary Youth Exchange, and maybe some of you have even been involved with the program. I recently completed my exchange year in the United States, and wanted to share the perspective of someone who has just taken part in one.

I come from Argentina, a little country on the edge of South America that you may have heard of recently because of the World Cup. It is in many ways very different from the United States. In signing up for an exchange to America, I stepped out alone into a culture unlike any I had experienced, in an unfamiliar environment, in a house I did not know, to live with people I did not know. Leaving behind family, friends, and most of what was familiar.

Victoria Alvarez

Victoria Alvarez

And despite all that, or maybe because of it, this year has opened my eyes and helped me grow as a person far more than any previous year in my life. How many teenagers can say they helped other Rotary members with a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) event, taking part in planning and learning leadership skills alongside other young adults? Or how many teenagers can say they are not from one country but two? That they have learned to appreciate the beauty in simple things? That money can never compare with love? And that hard work can make all the difference and give you more than you could ever ask through the joy that comes from helping others and doing good in the world?

These are some of the valuable things I learned during my exchange. I have learned there’s more than one way to do things, that things are not always black and white. Humans are the same everywhere, we just do thing differently and speak different languages. On the inside, at the heart level, we are all the same.

I can honestly say my exchange assisted me in differentiating right from wrong. But more than that, I can see that different is not always wrong, it is just different.

I built friends over a period of a year, and sometimes even in the course of a single week — friendships that I hope will last a lifetime.

So, I say to you, if you have the opportunity of hosting an exchange student, please do so. You will learn as much as the student you host. And if, through Rotary, you have the opportunity to go on Youth Exchange, go for it. You will never regret it.

During my stay in the U.S., I took part in a trip to the West Coast with other exchange student from all over the world. I am hoping to be able to reunite with some of them during Rotary’s International Convention in São Paulo in 2015.

Finally, I say thank you Rotary, and all who support the Youth Exchange program, for this awesome experience, one that you give to more than 3,000 youth a year.

9 thoughts on “My Rotary Youth Exchange — this year has opened my eyes

  1. Pingback: My Rotary Youth Exchange — this year has opened my eyes | Warsaw Rotary , Club 3393, District 6540

  2. Pingback: Today’s Links | Rotary International District 3040

  3. I well know of the Rotary exchange program. My son went to Finland for his exchange and loved it. We had seven exchange students in New Jersey from Sweden, Germany, Norway, Finland and Chile. My wife and I went to two weddings in Sweden. We visited the girl in Germany. Last year (after 30- years) we did a house exchange with a former exchange student from Sweden. What a wonderful experience for her and her husband and four children. We too had a wonderful time in Sweden living in their home.
    The Rotary Exchange program is the BEST!
    I was a member of the Point Pleasant Rotary Club then, but now am a member of the Spring Lake-Brielle Rotary. (New Jersey)

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  4. Thank you Victoria for your inspiring testimony. I went to the United States in 2010 and I still feel the same way. I hope you get to achieve all your dreams!

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  5. I was an American Rotary Exchange Student living in Denmark 27 years ago. I still consider that year one of the most enlightening and awesome years of my life!

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  6. I spend a year in Canada in 04/05 and it was the most valuable time of my life. Reading your post it reminds me of myself in every single way.

    One of my host families just came to visit for the second time. They attended my graduation during their first trip. I came “home” for my friends graduation, my host siblings kids and wedding anniversaries.

    Our little sister, a girl from argentina, who we hosted in 07/08, has a huge part in our heart and my parents call her their own daughter. I cannot image a life without her.

    There is not a single moment I regret anything. Even more I value my stay, the experiences I made, all the people I met every single day of my life. It’s been ten years and it feels like all of it happened yesterday.

    I’m excited for your little reunion next year. I’m from Europe and us europeans have met pretty much on a yearly basis to catch up. Enjoy every single moment!

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