The Rotary Youth Exchange program helps to build a better world, one student at a time. Rotary Youth Exchange gives high school students a chance to study in another country, make new friends, and build bridges that bring the world closer together.
After hitting pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rotary Club of Tualatin was thrilled to restart the exchange program locally this year.
Hannah is a Tualatin High School student who is spending her junior year in Finland. Hannah learned about Rotary Youth Exchange when a friend’s older sister participated. “I always wanted to travel and live abroad, growing up,” Hannah said.
The ultimate goal of the Rotary Youth Exchange is to help build peace and foster understanding, one young person at a time. Through the exchange, students become global citizens. Outbound students learn a new culture and language, seeing the world through a different lens. Inbound students who spend their year in Tualatin come away with a changed perspective about the United States, while also improving their English.
“I have definitely learned not to believe in all the stereotypes they tell you about a culture,” Hannah said. “I was told Finnish people would be shy and wouldn’t talk to me, which has proven not to be true at all!”
Host families are encouraged to treat the visiting student as one of their own children and provide experiences for the student to participate in.
“My favorite experience in Finland so far is sauna. At first, I thought it would be unexciting and a little weird, but it is a lot of fun and a great way to experience the culture!” Hannah said.
Turkish student Derin, who is visiting Tualatin this school year, has had some great Oregon adventures during his exchange so far. “My favorite experience was river fishing. Also, hiking places. Rotary camp was the best, and I’m looking forward to fishing in the ocean, that was my dream.”
The exchange instills participants with confidence, problem-solving, and leadership. Exchange students also develop lifelong relationships with other students and their host families. The students usually stay with two to three host families during the school year, broadening their exposure.
Barbara Lauritzen has led Tualatin’s Youth Exchange for several years; her daughter was also a participant: “Students that go out come back with a new perspective in life. I sent my daughter, who was a very quiet person before going, and when she came back, she was much more outgoing. She had so much more confidence in herself. It was wonderful to see.”
After a thorough application process that starts during freshman year, students chosen to participate in the exchange receive training and support during their sophomore year, to help prepare them for the 10-12 month exchange. The Tualatin Rotary Club will host an interest meeting regarding the program in the spring for interested students and their parents.
Tualatin also participates in a short-term exchange, which lasts four to six weeks during the summer. Families do not have to be involved with Rotary to apply to either the short- or long-term exchange.
In addition to being well organized, the Rotary Youth Exchange is also one of the least expensive international exchange programs open to high school students. Room and board is provided by host families, and Rotary finances tuition costs and provides a modest monthly allowance for students. Families are responsible for travel costs.
“I have learned so many things in America,” Derin said. “Everything is amazing here. I’m going to tell everyone that what I saw, what I learned, what I did here is the biggest experience of my life.”
Learn more at tualatinrotary.org/rotary-youth-exchange.