By Jurag Gago, a Rotary Youth Exchange Student from Slovakia to the United States
I am from the Slovak Republic, right in the heart of Europe. It is a small country bordered by Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, Poland, and the Czech Republic. I grew up in Trenčín with my brother, Martin and my mom and dad.
I just returned from one of the most wonderful experiences in my life. The Rotary Club of Trenčín in District 2240 decided to sponsor me for a Rotary Youth Exchange to Chicago, where I was hosted by the Rotary Club of Aurora Sunrise in a suburb of that great city. I was excited about the exchange because I knew it would challenge me a lot and I wanted to see how far I could grow on a personal and mental level. It gave me all that I could ever have expected.
I fell in love with Chicago immediately. My first challenge was to attend games for all of the major sports teams, and I was able to complete most except for the Chicago Bears football team. I made quite a few visits to see the Bulls (basketball) and Blackhawks (hockey). Marian Hossa on the Blackhawks is Slovakian, and I was proud to cheer him on and wave a Slovakian flag. I was even fortunate enough through my Rotary sponsors to meet the Blackhawks owner, Rocky Wirtz, whose family has owned the team for decades, and have my picture taken with him. I asked him so many questions about Hossa, I felt like Hossa’s agent for the day!
During my exchange, I traveled a lot. I visited some of the most beautiful places I had ever seen, such as the Aztec and Mayan pyramids in Mexico, the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and the cities of San Diego, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas.
The diversity I found within the United States amazed me. There are people of all races, colors, creeds, religions, and backgrounds. I met tons of Rotary members and found them all lovely people who really care about making a difference in the world. I wanted to promote Rotary more, so I wrote a speech which I delivered at my host high school, West Aurora. I also gave it during other Rotary events including the district conference. The district governor complimented me on the speech, which meant a lot to me.
When I look back, I have to say the experience far exceeded my expectations. It did more than open my eyes, it showed me that many things are possible, if you set your mind to it. I definitely grew as a person.
I am now back in Slovakia, finishing up my high school education. My goal is to study international business in Denmark, which has a great economy and education system. And then see where that takes me!
I am happy and proud that people care about and support Rotary Youth Exchange. I have a huge thanks to everyone I had a chance to meet in the process for this wonderful opportunity.