Rotary is a family that unites

Wilson in South Africa

Mark Wilson during his Rotary Youth Exchange in South Africa.

By Mark Wilson, Rotary Club of London

After a long flight from London, I arrived in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 to begin a short-term Rotary Youth Exchange, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Canterbury Sunrise and hosted by Westville Rotary. I did not know what or who would be greeting me, so I had a bit of anxiety which I can clearly remember to this day. Continue reading

When I give to Rotary, I get so much more back

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Stephanie Witkowski, middle in blue shirt, during her Rotary Youth Exchange in Slovakia. 

By Stephanie Witkowski, Rotary Club of Honolulu Pau Hana

At 28 years old, I decided to become a Rotarian, because Rotary changed my life.

I grew up in a small town in Oregon, USA, and was a young leader in my school. When I was 15 years old, I applied to attend a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards event in Rotary’s District 5110 to learn more about myself and what leadership meant to me. During that amazing week-long experience, I learned not only about how to be a better leader for my school and community, but about Rotary itself.  Continue reading

Making peace, one exchange student at a time

Belgian Exchange Student Marcellin Niset in Alaska

Belgian Exchange Student Marcellin Niset in Alaska

By Marcellin Niset, Rotary Youth Exchange Student from Belgium to Alaska

The Italian-American author and actress Vanna Bonta wrote, “There’s no hospitality like understanding.” That quote stuck with me as a Rotary Youth Exchange student to Alaska in 2015-16. I arrived in Alaska, a wilderness filled with beauty and love, determined to make my exchange purposeful and beneficial for myself, my host community, and the world.

An exchange is not only about a student going abroad, it is about all the people that make this exchange possible, and the ones that are impacted, directly and indirectly. Continue reading

Rotary Youth Exchange tour reunites 25 years later

Rotary Youth Exchange students from 1991 reunite 25 years later.

Rotary Youth Exchange students from 1991 reunite 25 years later.

By Emma Naas, a former Rotary Youth Exchange Student from Sweden

In the summer of 1991, 377 Rotary Youth Exchange students boarded eight buses and journeyed around the American continent for five weeks. Those weeks were for all of us unforgettable, and a fantastic end to our exchange year. The time we spent on those buses was so special, it created an unforgettable bond between us and a wonderful memory. We never thought we would ever meet again. But we were wrong. Continue reading

Rotary Youth Exchange has touched my entire family

Linda Mulhern, daughter, and Chile Exchange Student

The author, far right, and her daughter with a former Rotary Youth Exchange student from Chile.

By Linda Mulhern, a member of the Rotary Club of St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

When you become a Rotary Youth Exchange student, you never imagine how it might affect you in the long term. In my case, my exchange has connected my family in more ways than one.

As a Youth Exchange student to Sweden in 1979-80, I learned a lot about what I was capable of doing on my own, my strengths and weaknesses, and what it took to overcome obstacles. I had an incredible year in Sweden, and still speak Swedish fluently. I have contacts with many friends and communicate regularly with my host parents and host sisters. Continue reading

A South African’s Youth Exchange to Denmark

Ronan Morgan and South African flag

Rotary Youth Exchange student Ronan Morgan holds up the South African flag.

By Ronan Morgan

I had just arrived in Denmark after a 13-hour flight from South Africa, tired, but not exhausted. I was excited and ready to face a year of surprises and challenges as a Rotary Youth Exchange student from District 9400. It was not until I moved into my new home where I would spend the first five months of my exchange that it fully hit me – I was not in Johannesburg anymore, or anywhere familiar. Continue reading

My Rotary Youth Exchange year in Canada

2014-15 Rotary Youth Exchange students.

2014-15 Rotary Youth Exchange students.

By Gabriela Vessani

I spent a year in Canada as a Rotary Youth Exchange student, and I can’t believe how fast the year went by. On my flight back to Brazil a few months ago, I reflected on the experience, and had so many thoughts.

I remembered arriving with anxiety, and yes, even a little fear. The experience is never entirely what you expect and you can never totally prepare for it. I think that few students go in with a full understanding of how intense and Continue reading

How a summer day changed everything

Shirey speaking to her club

Andrea Shirey speaks to her Rotary Club about hosting an exchange student.

By Andrea Shirey

On a summer day at my weekly Rotary Club meeting, a simple yes changed everything. A series of events and conversations over several weeks had led a fellow Rotarian to ask me if our family would host an exchange student. Somehow, the word yes fell from my lips as my brain lagged behind just long enough to realize I was committed. Soon, the questions formed:

What if the student is weird? What if my kids don’t get along with her? What if she won’t eat anything I cook and she dislikes America because of me? The doubts were endless, the fears considerable.   Continue reading

Looking (way) back at a big adventure

Katherine Ward (middle) and her daughter (behind, left) in Turkey.

Katherine Ward (middle) and her daughter (behind, left) in Turkey.

By Katherine Ward

Thirty years ago, at the age of 18, I started a grand adventure and boarded a plane on my own toward Istanbul, Turkey. I was headed off on a yearlong Rotary Youth Exchange.

Before I left, I attended several camps that prepared us for culture shock and gave us a general sense of some of the changes we could expect. My high school wouldn’t accept any credits from Turkey, so I had accelerated my course schedule, completing all but one required course to graduate.

I spoke absolutely no Turkish but, despite my struggles with language learning at the Continue reading

The Rotary Youth Exchange I dreamed about

Thando Gwatyu shares the South African flag with his host family in Germany.

Thando Gwatyu shares the South African flag with his host family in Germany.

By Thando Gwatyu, a Rotary Youth Exchange student from South Africa to Germany

Recently, I finished my third month in Germany, and it’s already changing my life. The process has not always been easy, but I’ve made quite a few discoveries about German culture and tradition, some of which is very different from the life I’m used to.

My first host family, the Roos, were simply amazing. Both parents are architects and they have a 16-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son. The parents were eager to show me many things about their country Continue reading