Students explore new cultures in Rotary Exchange

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Whether students love to travel, yearn of learning a foreign language, or wish to make a difference in the world, the Rotary Youth Exchange program offers high school students the opportunity to broaden their horizons and discover new lands.

Students have the option to choose a long-term exchange, which runs the course of a school year, or a short-term exchange, which occurs during the summer.

“The short-term exchange packed the entire experience into a three to four week period,” said junior Claire Deacon, who traveled to Spain this past summer. “Some of my most precious memories were in the simple things, like swimming in the family pool or visiting the Pyrenees Mountains. I was able to see things that I wasn’t able to see here.”

Likewise, Klein High School has hosted exchange students.

“My first reaction to Klein was, ‘I’m going to get lost’,” said senior Cathy Pires, an exchange student from Brazil. “I was expecting it to be just like the movies and very formal, especially when I found out that I had to call the teachers Ms. and Mr. However, I didn’t get lost at all. Just like the movies, there are all kinds of people. The teachers are also very nice. I miss being able to walk around everywhere. In Brazil, everything was close and smaller. In Texas, people are always like ‘it’s really close’, and they usually have to take their cars. Also, at school in Brazil, we have the same classes with the same people, and we don’t get to choose the subjects.”

Exchange   students gain experience by learning new languages and traditions.

“There are many benefits for both inbound and outbound exchange students,” said Anais Watsky, chairwoman of the International Committee and Youth Exchange Officer for the Rotary Club of Willowbrook. “These include learning a language or becoming more fluent in one they have studied at school; maturing tremendously in one year; and meeting and becoming friends with other exchange students from many different countries.”

One of the informational meetings regarding Rotary’s short-term and long-term exchanges was held at Klein on Oct. 23. Spanish teacher Mina Chacón understands the opportunity offered to students both as a foreign language teacher and a parent.

“My daughter went to Belgium for a Long Term exchange from August 2008 to July 2009. She feels that this was the best year she ever had,” said Chacón. “I feel that this is an excellent opportunity not only to learn another language, but also another culture. Many students have never been outside the country, so this program provides students with the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world.”

Klein High’s new Interact Club, a service club based on Rotary’s motto  of ‘Service over Self’, aims to help and serve local communities in need. Interact will meet on Wednesdays before or after school in Room 1202.

“I like the idea of a service club,” said Chacón, who will be the club sponsor. “I want students to be involved in community service projects. I also want them to learn about Rotary not just as an Exchange program but as a Service program, recognizing the excellent work they do all over the world.”

Students  around the world build ties with other exchange students through the need to serve others and the community and through the desire to learn more about different countries.

“I never had the interest to be an exchange student since I’m way too connected to my family and friends,” Pires said. “I always wanted to live in the U.S. though. My mom encouraged me all the time, and after I took the test to get in the program, I started getting really excited. It has been a great experience so far. I have to thank my mom and also Rotary for being so welcoming and kind. One of my favorite quotes is ‘One day you have to stop daydreaming, and somehow, leave.’ I hope I can grow up even more and get ready to face the fact that the world has no frontiers.”