What does it truly mean to be an exchange student? A lot of people ponder this question, not knowing what a true exchange student really is. A misconception most commonly associated with the idea of a foreign student is a trouble maker, or “party animal.” As this may be true for some cases, this is not our true goal in traveling abroad as a part of Rotary Youth Exchange. Rotary Youth Exchange students are seen as the elite young ambassadors in the youth exchange world. It is our responsibility and privilege to experience another culture, share ours, and bring back as much culture with us to help spread the knowledge of another society back at our homes.
In the beginning of our exchange we feel out of place, insecure, and a burden to others. Eventually, usually into the third month of an exchange, the student begins to feel at home. This is probably the most important part of an exchange, because we are beginning to let go of our habits from back home, and start to see ourselves as an entirely different nationality. After this period, the exchange goes by so fast, that one minute we’re afraid to openly speak our foreign language, and the other we’re on a plane back home. There may be times when we feel off course, when we’re tempted by others, and ourselves, to veer away from what we’re really here to do. But even if we tried to avoid the culture, there’s no getting away from it. It’s everywhere around us, and we change dramatically because of this vast change in our lives.
It may appear scary at first, and even overwhelmingly complicated, but once you get into the feel of it all, everything seems to flow into place. An exchange is always the best year of a student’s life. It is a one in a lifetime opportunity to spread your wings, bring the world closer, and meet friends from all corners of the world. I would highly recommend that anyone that is interested in foreign cultures, meeting new people, and traveling to new places takes up the responsibility of what it means to be an exchange student.