By Joel Dzuba, Rotary Exchange Student from Ontario, Canada, to Lower Saxony, Germany
It would be impossible to pick a favourite memory from my exchange in Germany due to the sheer number of opportunities I had and dreams I lived. From sailing in the Baltic Sea, to walking in the North Sea, to swimming in the Mediterranean, there are simply too many experiences to pick a favourite.
Birthday on a beach
One of the many stories that I do love to share, however, was when I was celebrating my 18th birthday during our year-end European Tour. All the exchange students had gathered on the beach at night to watch the stars in the little town of Portofino, Italy, and eventually I found myself sitting back to back on a rock with a Brazilian student, a Russian student, and a Taiwanese student. In all of my life, no other moment has ever made me feel so paradoxical as that night.
On the one hand, I felt so incredibly small when I realized where I was sitting and with whom I was sitting; as I was just a boy from Ontario who suddenly found himself halfway across the world, with people who would maybe only have a one in a billion chance of meeting together in any other circumstance. And yet, on the other hand I had never felt so large in comparison to the vastness of the world, and the borders as I had pictured them. The world suddenly felt like it had shrunk, and that there was nowhere that was out of my reach anymore.
Larger than life
If I had to try to make a metaphor that could explain the experience, I would say that it gave me a feeling of being “Larger than Life” while still humbling me with the realization of the sheer amount of opportunity that had been given to me by the kindness of others; as without everyone back home in the Rotary club supporting me, I could have only dreamed of being where I was that night.
Out of all my life experiences, I would say that my exchange year played a fundamental role in forming and shaping the person I am today. It has shaped my world view; given me the courage to break out of my shell; and has given me the experience of living in an interconnected and continually shrinking world.
It has also inspired me to seek an international career, as I am currently studying in International Affairs and Policy due to the inspiration I received from my exchange year to continue living an international lifestyle.
Learn more about Rotary Youth Exchange