Posted by Lorraine Hartson on May 07, 2019
Youth Exchange is not A Year of a Life, But rather A Life in A Year!
 
In 1998, when my daughter came home with the Long Term Preliminary Application for Rotary Youth Exchange, completely filled out, and stated to my husband and myself that she was going, I had no idea how my life was about to change – for the better.
At that time, I must admit I knew little of Rotary.  However, my husband and I both love to travel, so we immediately saw the benefit to our daughter living away for a year in a foreign country.  We fully supported her in her decision to apply for youth exchange.  She was accepted and was given her 2nd choice Bolivia. 
This was the start of my journey.  My husband and I went to the May Outbound Orientation camp.  I was so impressed with the weekend, all of the information we received, and how the passion shone through all of the Rotarians doing the presentations.  At the end of the weekend I remember thinking to myself, “ I want to be part of that one day”.  Little did I know…..
 
My husband and I both were willing and eager to host a student while our daughter was away. We thought it would be fantastic to have a student from another country live with us.  They could teach us about their life and culture while we share our life and culture with them.  I received a phone call from the club Youth Exchange Officer thanking me for being willing to host 2 students the year my daughter was away.  I must say this was news to me, my daughter had volunteered my family to host students when she learnt the YEO was having difficulties finding host families and failed to mention it to me.  Naturally we took both students, one in late August and the 2nd one arrived in Dec right after our first student moved out.  This was such a positive experience for us we went on to host 17 students in total.  Many we still keep in touch with.
 
In 2003 I joined Rotary and jumped in immediately and became the Youth Exchange Office for my club.  A busy role, but so rewarding.  The students that have crossed my path have been the most brave, amazing young adults one would ever want to spend time with.  They made friends at the local high school often creating a desire for their Canadian friends to apply for exchange.  They enriched the lives of their host families, with many of them still keeping in touch with their Canadian families.
Little did I know that I would have an impact on some of the students that lived with us.  Last year my husband and I went to visit Pablo in Mexico.  Our Mexican Son.  The experience visiting him and his family was so rewarding, the love between the two families was over the moon.  The connection was simply amazing to me, as all we did was have Pablo in our home and treat him like family.  Pablo told me that living with my family changed his life, as we taught him a different way to look at life and the complexities of life.  I had no idea I had this impact on him, as all I did was be me.  This year I visited Midori our Japanese daughter for a day in Tokyo.  It was so wonderful to see her and we picked up right where we left off, with the connection between us as strong as ever.  Midori told me that I taught her the value of Family and expressed her gratitude for giving her one of life’s most important lessons.  Again I had no idea I had such an impact.
 
Once I retired, I joined the Youth Exchange District Committee and today find myself in the role of District Chair for YE.  I must say every day is different, and I never know what challenge or blessing will come our way working with teens.  I love it all.   It is such an honour to be in this role.  And yes, the passion that I saw in the Rotarians that we meet in 1999, is still in the hearts of the Rotarians involved with Youth Exchange today.
 
In these troubled times in the world, I believe it is even more important to have our youth from District 5080 go out on exchange.  Many Rotarians involved with Youth Exchange will tell you if every student in the world went on youth exchange it would end war.  Think not?  I think so for the following reason.  A couple of years ago when one of the rebound students was presenting to our club about his year away, I asked him what youth exchange gave him.  His response was “Youth Exchange gave me a face to every country in the world.  When I hear about a tragic event in a country I think of my friend from that country and wonder how they are doing and reach out to them.  When I hear of a celebration in a country I think of my friend in that country and am glad for them”.
 What if everyone could think like that?  I think our world would be very different.
 
Remember:
Youth Exchange is not A Year of a Life,
But rather A Life in A Year!
Here is what some outbounds have to say about exchange:
 
Submitted by Lorraine Hartson