The Wonderful Experience of Being an Exchange Student!
By Julie D
I’m an exchange student with the Rotary Exchange Program, visiting New York from France
So, what does being an exchange student mean? It means that you are leaving your home, family and friends, for one year, to live in a foreign country. There, you are going to live as a new person, you’re going to have to make major decisions by yourself; you’re going to learn a new language, culture, and customs. You will go to a local school, make new friends from a new country and meet people more amazing one from another.
How did I become an exchange student? I’ve wanted to be an exchange student since I was in 8th grade, so, as soon as I became the age to apply, I applied on the website of my Rotary District. To become an Exchange Student, you have to be between 15 and 18 years old. I got called for an interview where I was asked about my motivation and why I wanted to live this experience. Two days after, I received a phone call that announced my biggest dream was going to become true! I had to fill a file and choose three countries where I would like to spend my exchange year. My choices were 1-USA, 2-Mexico, 3- Sweden. One important thing that you need to know is that you may not have your first choice, but the goal is not to go to a special country, it’s to live the experience.
In February, I learned that I got my top choice country and that I was going to the USA, State of New York. You don’t choose the area you go to, it is a complete surprise. What I felt was indescribable. In early July, I learned that I was going to Binghamton. Everything went so fast! On the 26th of August, I couldn’t realize that it was the D-Day—It was so hard to say goodbye! But this year is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!, for both the Exchange Student and the host family, because we learn from each other.
I asked host families, what they would say to people who are hesitating in hosting an Exchange Student. My host mother, Jen O’Brien, said, “Why not? There are all kinds of reasons why you are hesitating, but can you give one really good reason answering ‘why not’?” For my host dad, Paul O’Brien, “the greatest rewards we receive are when we give of ourselves.”
My parents back in France said that hosting an exchange student allows them to talk and learn about his culture, way of living and to learn things about another country.
I also make them do things, visits in their own country, that they would probably have never done. They also meet a lot of new people from their home town involved in Rotary which enables them to find out more about their actions in the world.
A host family who hosted an exchange student for a whole year, the Sellepacks, said, “Don’t hesitate! If you are worried about the commitment, remember that it can only be for 4 months which flies by! We wanted to host both our students for the full year. Exchange students are normally very sensitive to fitting in ; they want to experience your family. Also, your job as host isn’t to entertain or take the student everywhere. Your job is to be a family for your student.”
I also asked them what hosting a student brought them. For my mother, it brings laughter, another family member, a way to learn more about other cultures, and a new friendship. For my host father, it’s an insight into another culture, clearer understanding of how “we” are perceived by other nations. A fuller Family! For the Sellepacks, “Hosting allows us to learn about family life in another culture. We learned so much by hosting! Also, we get the pleasure of helping students who are far from home feel at home, and we get to help them make the most of their exchange year.”
Becoming an exchange student is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made! I’ve met amazing people that made me do so many things that could have happened only during an exchange year. With the Rotary, the world is divided into districts. Each district is made of a lot of clubs that host exchange students from all over the world. Here, we are in the district 7170 and we are 34 exchange students. We come from Europe, South America, Asia, Australia. We are ambassadors of our country. At the beginning of our exchange, we are given a blazer, which throughout the year becomes our journal. We exchange pins from our home country with the other exchange students and hang them on our jacket. The exchange students become a kind of new family. We have this experience in common and it feels good to know that someone understands how you feel. I asked a few of them to describe their exchange in one word. Natalie, from Slovakia and visiting Brazil, says “Surprising.” Celeste, from the USA who is visiting Indonesia, says, “Challenging.” Carolina, from Brazil and visiting Denmark, describes it as, “Transformation.”
If you are interested in becoming an exchange student or a host family, don’t hesitate to contact the Rotary Clubs of your community. My advice would be just go for it! It is such a unique wonderful, amazing, and unforgettable experience!!