By Shelbi LeMeilleur
Around the world, students ages 15 to 19 are able to embrace new experiences and cultural differences through the Rotary International Long-Term Youth Exchange program. Part of what makes this possible is the generous support by Rotary clubs around the world, the goodwill of local communities, and host families.
Each student who participates in the program stays with three different host families, each for a three-month period. Currently there is an opportunity for a family to host a 15-year-old young lady from Germany, beginning middle of August. A second host family is already in place to host this student beginning the end of November. If your family would like to apply to be a host family or if you would like more information, contact Charley Gilliland or Carolyn Young, youth exchange coordinators residing in the Bryan College Station Area. Gilliland’s email is email@example.com and Young’s is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joan Quintana, managing partner of AdventGX, has hosted two young women through the youth exchange program (one from France and the other from Japan). Quintana’s daughter Emma also participated in the exchange program and studied in Japan.
“When you’re hosting a child from abroad, it’s very much like having another person in your family,” Quintana explains. “If you don’t have children of your own, you will by the time this experience is over. And if you do already have kids, it’s just unbelievable how quickly they become a part of your family and just capture your heart. It’s a really wonderful experience.”
Host families not only bond with this new member of their family, but they are able to learn more about the student and their home culture as well. Quintana says this can simply be through stories and experiences shared with the students, or something like cooking and through attending local events.
Families interested in hosting are not required to be members of Rotary club. Any member of the community can become a host family by passing a background check and by going through a brief application process. Each member of the family also needs two personal references, and must attend an orientation once they are accepted into the program.
“If you have any inkling that this is something that would be cool, or if you’ve ever thought about hosting an exchange student, I would just say, this is a great program,” Quintana says. “Rotary International has such a system down and their expectations of their students is so high, that they really get quality kids coming into the community and they understand that they are ambassadors for their country and representing their country. They are here to learn and they are here to form really strong relationships and bonds. There is no way to measure how incredible that is. It is just such a great experience all around.”
Not only is Bryan Rotary looking for host families, but Gilliland says now is the time for local students to apply if they are interested in the long-term exchange program. To qualify, students must apply and be sponsored by a local Rotary club. Applicants should also be above-average students who have demonstrated leadership in their community, and possess qualities such as flexibility and willingness to try new things that will allow them to immerse themselves in a new culture.
“It’s an honor to be able to do this,” Quintana explains.
As someone who has seen both sides of the youth exchange program, Quintana has nothing but good things to say. She is still in touch with the two young ladies her family hosted, and she was also able to meet one of the families her daughter stayed with while in Japan.
“It is the best, hardest thing you will ever do,” Quintana says of Emma’s time abroad. “It is so incredibly good for your kids. I’m a huge believer anyway in travel, just how edifying that is and how it just enhances your understanding of your place in the world. With Rotary, it is such a phenomenal program. … It’s an incredible gift to give to your child.”
For more information about being a host family, or applying to the youth exchange program, visit www.rotary.org/en/our-programs/youth-exchanges, or contact Charlie Gilliland.