How Rotary Youth Exchange Changed My Life

At the ripe age of 17 I graduated from High School with not a damn clue about what I wanted to do. Did I want to be an audiologist like I had always thought? Or did I want to try a trade? Did I want to take a year off? YES! That was the answer, taking a year off to figure out what I really wanted. Why spend thousands only to decide you HATE what you’ve chosen and not know where to go next? Why not spend a year in a new country?

While visiting my cousin in Australia in grade 11, she told me about the Rotary Youth Exchange program. Rotary is an international organization whose main goal is to eliminate polio (they’re THIS CLOSE!) and service above self. They also have international youth exchange programs available for successful candidates aged 16-18. There is a huge list of countries to choose from in Europe, Asia and South America, the possibilities are endless! After choosing my top ten, I went through a series of interviews and once I was deemed a successful candidate, I was chosen to go to France for an entire year! I was STOKED! I would live in a new country, new city, go to a new high school, learn a new language, live with three different host families, and eat all the delicious French food I wanted! It all seemed like a dream, and it does to this day.

This dream was slightly terrifying. I did not speak any French, I did not meet my families until I actually arrived in the country, and I had no clue how to make friends in a new country (especially not speaking the language). Also, I wondered, how do I greet my family when I arrive at the airport? A hug, a kiss on the cheek? Wait no, in France in my region it’s a kiss on each cheek…what did I get myself into!? So needless to say, it was a tad nerve-wracking. But when I finally arrived, everything fell into place. I was in love. I got placed to live in Chamonix, France (which is in the ALPS!). I always had a view of Mont Blanc (the highest mountain point in Europe) or the mountain ranges. My dream has always been to live in the mountains and it was a dream come true. I made some amazing friends, I had amazing host families and some of the most incredible experiences that I look back on to this day wishing I could relive.

I will forever be indebted to Rotary because they made such an impact on my life at the age of just 18. They taught me I was able to be an independent woman who could figure out her problems without her mom (although, there were some freak out Skype calls….mom, does this look normal-but all of us girls do that, right?!). I learned to deal with my anxiety with better coping mechanisms. I had a phrase, “20 seconds is all it takes” that got me through my exchange. Some new experiences were terrifying and sometimes I needed to push that anxiety down and just do it! This phrase is something I use even four years later when it comes to trying something new and scary. I was able to teach myself that every day is special and you won’t get the chance to relive it so you need to profte au fond!  I made new French friends, English friends, and friends from all over the world! I even recently visited a friend of mine in Mexico last summer. It was two years since we last saw each other but it felt like it was just yesterday. My exchange taught me that despite how much I hated French in high school, I actually love the language! It was beautiful, complex and it has an accent I can only wish to one day have. I decided to study French when I came home to become a French teacher. I want to become the French teacher I never had. I want to teach my students that French is more than just grammar, it is art, culture, love, architecture, food…. French is more than the passé composé. Rotary set me on my career path and I could not be happier doing what I am doing.

I do get hurt when people tell me that my exchange friends are not as close to me as my friends at home because that is far from true. If anything they are the friends I have been searching for for my whole life. I found a group of people who share the love of culture, language and travel with me. When people tell me to forget about my exchange year, it is impossible. It was a life in a year. I became a new Lexi. I did not come home as the same Lexi I was before my exchange. As I previously said, my exchange impacted me all the way to my future career path! So please, never tell me my Rotary friends are not my true friends and that my exchange year does not matter because it was the best year of my life so far and I wish to be back there every day.

Thank you Rotary. Thank you for supporting me on this journey and promoting world peace by continuing youth exchange. France, je t’aime.