By Courtney, a Rotary Youth Exchange student sponsored by Rotary District 9550 (Australia)
Thanks to my Rotary Youth Exchange in Brazil, I now have friends from all corners of the globe. I have made some of the best friends I’ve ever had here, and it has been an amazing experience.
A little more than two years ago, I was sitting along the highway in a small town in the Queensland Outback watching traffic go by, when two members of a Rotary Youth Exchange safari tour walked by and struck up a conversation. Little did I know that simple conversation, and later meeting the entire busload of teens on the safari, would eventually lead to my own Rotary Youth Exchange, with financial support from the Rotary District that covers Queensland and from members and clubs throughout southeast Australia.
I am now almost through the exchange and I have learned so many things. One of those has definitely been patience. In Brazil, if someone tells you that something starts at 8 p.m., what they really mean is somewhere around 8:30 p.m. I have also thoroughly enjoyed learning Portuguese, and can have conversations in it and get around on my own. Now that I know another language, I want to learn three more. Brazilian barbecues have also been one of the best parts of my experience. There is so much meat. Almost every single weekend, I have attended a Brazilian barbecue.
Brazilians are so full of happiness and laughter, it is hard not to love them. In some ways, Brazilians are much like Australians, always happy and willing to say hello to you on the street. Growing up in Queensland, I always assumed this was true everywhere, but I have heard from other exchange students that’s not necessarily the case.
My Rotary Youth Exchange has also taught me that the world isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. It’s taught me that I don’t need to be afraid to take risks or accept people who are different.
The year has not all been a bed of roses. In the middle of my exchange, my older sister in Australia passed away and I was devastated. I felt alone and isolated and like my whole world had crashed in on me. But then, as time passed, and my exchange took me to a new city, I began to get connected and feel happy again.
I am still very Australian, but I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned a second language, which is awesome, and I’ve learned to appreciate family and friends a whole lot more. My life has definitely changed.
Without Rotary, I’d probably still be sitting on a chair watching cars go by in the Queensland Outback.
Editor’s note: Courtney’s account is adapted with permission from a report she wrote to district leaders.