Why to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student

Nine months ago, I put on my best clothes, got in the car, and went to the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign to interview for Rotary Youth Exchange with a nervous stomach and a cynical mind.

The word “Rotary” had a different ethos to me last October. I’d heard how youth exchange changed people’s lives, and I was aware the idea was to send 16-18 year olds to another country for a year, but Rotary was just another option, lost in the myriad of colleges I was considering at the time. Why put off college, anyway? What need was there to spend an entire year in another country? I knew it would be an interesting year, but would it be worth it?

I spent last weekend with hundreds of other exchange students, and I can now wholeheartedly tell you this:

Rotary Youth Exchange is worth it.

I could make your eyes glaze over by recounting the events of the weekend. I could retell the stories I was told, reteach the lessons I was taught, and regurgitate the information I digested.

Instead, I’d prefer to tell you about the people I’ve met through Rotary. If I learned anything this weekend, it’s that amazing people, whatever their difference, exist everywhere. Here’s a far from complete list of the people who I spent time with.

-Jerryl Banait, an inbound from Nagpur, one of the most likable people I’ve met and someone who makes me excited to be spending a year in his hometown.

-Wesley Wiltgen, a rebound who spent about four hours alone just walking and talking with me about his year in Ankleshwar, India, one-on-one.

-John Hurst, another rebound who’s been to Nagpur and eased my fears of everything in India from shopping to stomachaches.

-Saurin Shah, an outbound headed to Brazil who’s shown incredible adaptability and stayed chill despite the fact his host country has changed twice in two weeks.

-James Claxon, an outbound who will be taking The Game with him to Germany in spite of my protests.

-Joe Chang, an inbound from Taiwan whom I wish I’d had many more than seven days to hang out with over the last four months.

I’m just sad the world isn’t populated by 6.8 billion people like those I met through Rotary.

But there are people like those in Rotary all over the world. With Rotary, you’re not alone. After I spent my first meal in the dining hall alone Thursday night, I rarely walked the campus alone. I had about a dozen best friends.

The Rotary process can be complicated at times. Submitting the initial application is a pain. Getting in touch with someone for the first time can be a challenge. Depending on the country you’re assigned, the paperwork for getting a visa and plane tickets can make you and your parents want to pull your hair out.

But what other program pays for your food, schooling and housing for a year? You will have to pay for the plane ticket, insurance, gifts, medical fees and any extra trips you want to take in your country. But Rotary actually gives you an allowance equivalent to about $50 a month, depending where you go. What other program does that?

But that’s not why you should be a Rotary Youth Exchange student.

Do it because of the people you’ll meet.

You won’t regret your decision.


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7 Responses to “Why to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student”

  1. Shawn Bird Says:

    Welcome to the amazing world of Rotary Youth Exchange, Chris. I look forward to following your adventures in India.

  2. Shawn Bird Says:

    Oh- and here is my advice for you, Chris, and any other exchange students wanting to take the best advantage of the opportunity they’ve been given: http://shawnbird.com/2010/07/14/how-to-have-an-amazing-rotary-youth-exchange-year/ Stay tuned to my blog, as I expect as I ponder about the exchange cycle (which I hope you’ve learned about!) I will weigh in with more thoughts.

  3. Lyn Says:

    I can’t tell you how ecstatic I was when I came across this article. I’ve been trying to be an exchange student myself, and so, even having been rejected once, this only further cements me in my resolve! I can’t think of anything I’d like more in the world than to be an exchange student, and it makes me a little sad that I’d have to choose a country- the possibilities are endless for all of them!

    I am so glad you enjoy Rotary, and I wish you the best of luck!

    • cyoder Says:

      If you’re from the USA or Canada, Rotary would be a great organization to try (unless it was the one you were rejected from). There are some scholarships available if you need them. If you can find just one Rotarian in your area, they can probably get you in contact with the right people so you can go on an exchange. It might take some work, but Rotary is a network, and it should provide you with a way of going on an exchange.

      As for choosing a country, just put down India! Seriously though, every exchange student I’ve talked with has had good things to say about their country. There are no bad choices.

      • Lyn Says:

        Actually, it was Rotary that rejected me, but I was told it was because I was from an area that didn’t do the program whatsoever, and so by applying through another district, things became complicated. The problem got sorted out though 😀 I almost forgot about the scholarships until you mentioned it, and I’ll have to look into those.

        I had been debating about India for a while now. It seems like an interesting country, but my parents are uncomfortable with me going there because of the archetypes they believe in about the country (one of the main reasons I want to go on exchange, if only to defeat those ideas). I’ll meditate more on it, but it’s great to hear from another person- rather than just a brochure or whatever- that it’s nice. And I agree- it seems every student thinks their country was a great choice.

        Thank you for the compliment on my writing, by the way!

  4. medha Says:

    i am from india. i want to participate in youth exchange program. can u please tell me how to apply and give me the link too for india?

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