Sunday, November 28, 2021
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THE POWER OF ROTARY YOUTH EXCHANGE

One of the worst things you can do is look a youth exchange student in the eye, talk to them or spend time with them. It’s a trick, a trap, RUN! They will melt your heart, and you will want to get involved with this amazing program.

It will be almost 750 days from when the last inbound student left District 5020 and when we expect the next students to arrive in August of 2022. Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused and engaged when there are no students to work with, they are the reason we all get involved in the program.

Today I Face Timed with three former inbound students to District 5020, I just wanted to share something positive about youth exchange because with no students in country, it’s sometimes hard to remember why we are here.

Here is why I received a phone call three years after these students exchange ended.

In August of 2017, my daughter Grace left for Norway on exchange, my wife and I were not Rotarians. We had many friends in the past who had hosted exchange students from other programs, but that is nothing that we ever wanted to do. We agreed to host a student to support our daughter’s exchange. Peter arrived here in Nanaimo from Hungary in mid-August, shortly after our daughter left. Over the next several weeks, I meet other Rotary youth exchange students in Nanaimo and one in particular who was staying in Qualicum, Daria, from Switzerland, immediately impacted my wife and me. We really enjoyed her company. All of the students are amazing, but Daria was so friendly, articulate and she would take the bus down from Qualicum and spend time at our house with us and other exchange students. She is someone who is very easy to talk to and engage with.  Daria even participated in our Rotary Club’s book sale fundraiser.

I coach U18 girls rep soccer in Nanaimo. In September, I always take my team over to a Vancouver Whitecaps game, so I invited my student Peter, the other Nanaimo students, and Daria from Qualicum to come with us. Peter was very excited to hang out with a bunch of 17-year-old girls. Daria called and said she had a friend in Courtenay, Claire from Belgium, and asked if she could also come to the game, these exchange students kept multiplying. I agreed, and with some conversations with host families and YEO’s the exchange students were to stay the night at my house following the game.

I received a phone call from Claire the day before the game, she said that her host dad was coming down to Nanaimo tonight and would it be OK if she stayed two nights……..sure!

So with Claire’s unplanned arrival that evening, my student was out, my wife was out with some friends, and I was at home with two friends and my son watching hockey. Claire showed up, sat down at the kitchen island, and immediately won over the crowd. I was in awe of these exchange students, the courage, the curiosity, and the confidence.

I started to wonder, “Was my daughter doing the same thing in Norway and having a similar experience?” (We were fortunate to travel to Norway in May of 2018 to meet her host families and Rotary Club. Grace made a great impression on everyone there, and it turns out Grace was having a similar experience, they loved Grace like we loved these inbound students.) We had an amazing weekend in Vancouver, my soccer team were fantastic hosts and showed the girls a marvelous time in Vancouver. Upon our return, we started planning other trips that involved all of the Vancouver Island students, I was not a Rotarian, I had never thought about joining Rotary, but these students were infectious, and I wanted to be involved. How could I become part of this program? Well, fortunately, I had some amazing mentors in Paul Geneau and Craig Gillis, before I knew it, I was “Rotarized” and jumped in with both feet and have never looked back.

Daria, Claire, and Christel became favorites of my wife and me (not that you are allowed to have favorites). At the end of their exchange, we took them camping on Quadra Island in June 2018, and we still regularly talk with them. Every year since their exchange, these three girls have gotten together in one of their countries, first Switzerland 2019, Belgium 2020, and France 2021. Each time they are all together, they call, and we have a great chat. Daria, Claire, and Christel had the nicknames Ding, Dang, and Dong……..they were amazing Rotary ambassadors, and it’s great to see friendships last following an exchange year!!

Where are they at now: Daria is studying to be a biology teacher, Claire is studying to be a math teacher, and Christel is studying management.

I asked Christel what area she planned to manage, and she said, “The World,” and if you know Christel, this is not an impossible task. Next summer, all three girls plan to come back to Canada to spend time in BC and have already volunteered my wife and I to take them on a road trip……who can say no to that offer?

I am really looking forward to getting students inbound and outbound for August 2022. These three girls are one of the biggest reasons I got involved in the program, we have a great friendship following their exchange, and I really hope that other people get the opportunity to have the same experience. I am so fortunate to be part of an amazing program and be surrounded by so many dedicated people to the service of youth. I hope everyone is doing well and look forward to seeing you again in person.

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