After many months of planning and preparation, I can now reveal that I have been successful in achieving my dream of becoming a Rotary Youth Exchange Student! Next year, I will be spending 12 months living in Germany!
Since February this year I have been working towards the goal of becoming a Rotary International Youth Exchange Student in 2014. This is a position that I have been aspiring for some years now. There have been a number of contributing factors that have prompted me to take this life changing leap of faith.
My Dad was a Rotary Exchange Student (during 1989-1990) in Lohja, Finland. I was brought up knowing this, and I have increasingly become aware of the stories and photographs he has shared from one of the best years of his life. In addition to this, I have been studying some of the German language since Primary school and continue to study it through High School.
In 2010, I had the privilege of travelling to Europe with my parents – our primary destination: Finland. In Finland I had an amazing cultural experience by meeting, and staying with my father’s three host families and numerous friends he made during his year in Finland. I believe this experience was particularly special because we had the opportunity to stay with locals within the community and were not regarded as tourists, but were included in the families’ activities. During our stay in Finland we were accommodated with generous hospitality and even had the chance to stay in a summer cottage and experience a traditional Finnish sauna. In addition to Finland, I travelled to three other special countries: England, France and Hong Kong. All were very unique places on our planet, all culturally vibrant. This trip sparked a desire within me to not only return to Europe, but to also embark on more overseas travel for an extended period of time. It created a thirst within me to become globally minded and to learn as much about foreign cultures, languages and different lifestyles as I can.
In 2012, my family had the amazing privilege of hosting a short term exchange student from Germany. Together, we shared in each other’s cultures. I had a big sister for the first time, whom I shared a room with. I was able to practise my German with her, while she was immersed in English. She attended my school, and formed friendships with my friends. She did not enjoy our Australian sandwich bread, which she referred to as ‘toast’. This prompted my Mum to discover the wonders of European bread! Throughout our exchange student’s stay with us and even after her return, our family has not stopped delighting in delicious German brown bread, a recipe my Mum has perfected. Hosting our German exchange student was a culturally enriching experience for my family. Although we were sad to see her go, we have continued to keep in contact with her. Our hosting experience has further encouraged me to become an exchange student. I am so excited to be bringing my Australian culture to Germany, while soaking up the German way of life.
The process in becoming a Rotary Youth Exchange Student is quite involved, but very rewarding. My first task included completing a preliminary application form, and to locate a local Rotary Club who would sponsor me. I have learnt through the process of writing many emails, that patience is the key. After making contact with my local Club, I was invited to attend a preliminary interview with three Rotarians where I was asked some basic questions concerning my goals for the future. This first meeting was very positive, and was good practice for what was to come.
I was then invited to an evening dinner meeting where I was asked to give a short presentation to the Rotary Club as well as sit a formal interview. I chose to present my recent textiles projects and awards. This was received very well and I was given very good feedback. Although, public speaking is not a strong point of mine, I found I was able to speak confidently as I was addressing topics that I am passionate about. All the Rotarians are lovely people and have people’s best interests in mind, this is very reassuring and certainly makes presentations easier. I have learnt a lot through this experience, which has been very worthwhile. I’m now more willing to stand up and present myself in front of others, after all practice makes perfect!
After achieving sponsorship with my local Club, I began preparations for the Rotary District interviews. All around the world, Rotary Clubs are organised to operate in Districts within each of the countries in which they operate. Each Rotary District is only able to support a select number of students, calling for a formal interview process to take place in order to determine which applicants will become ‘outbound’ exchange students.
Leading up to the District interviews I was nervous but also very well prepared. I had ensured I was able to answer any question thrown at me through meeting with at least one Rotarian a week during the months leading up to my interview. Through these meetings I was able to gain more knowledge about Rotary International and my local Rotary Club, as well as begin to build relationships with the members of my Sponsor Club. This preparation was invaluable and essential to my success.
After being informed that my application was successful, I was over the moon! I was excited, relieved and even more confident in myself. I am so proud that I have begun to achieve one of my long-term goals. It still hasn’t fully sunk in: in January I will be packing my bags and saying goodbye to my family for 12 months, and it possibly won’t sink in until I’ve boarded the plane to Germany. For the moment, I am excited to be a part of the Rotary community, and I’m looking forward to the adventure of a lifetime!
My Rotary Youth Exchange journey can be found here.