Posted by Machel Considine
Did you know that Rotary Youth Exchange is an official program of Rotary International? Did you know that Rotary Youth Exchange is regarded as one of the premier youth exchange programs in the world? Did you also know it was organized first in Denmark in 1929?Through this highly recommended program for all Rotary clubs as a practical activity, your club (and our district) can achieve a service goal through one of the 6 Areas of Focus, that of Peace and Conflict Resolution by fostering cultural understanding and goodwill one student at a time. 
Our District 5495 has an active, strong program partly because it is organized and administered by local Rotarians within local clubs, district and regionally. Rotarians, like you, are not paid to provide this service instead we are #PeopleofAction. Because Rotary Youth Exchange depends on volunteers, it is the least expensive, yet safest and highest quality youth exchange program there is. Because of this close connection with local Rotarians, students away from home (and their parents) are more comfortable knowing that Rotarians are available to help and offer guidance.
You and your club have the opportunity to make a difference in a teenager’s life! Your time and experience in their life is invaluable. Students want to learn from their elders. They want to build goodwill and better friendships and be a part of the Rotary Community. Adding to that value is the experience of the host families, the receiving high school and, in fact, the entire community. 
Students often attend Rotary Club meetings getting to know their club members. Sometimes these connections benefit students in their later academic, business or professional lives. Here are but a few real-life examples from our district. There are thousands of these examples throughout the world. 
  • Sometimes the impact seems small like a Dutch boy who never played football before got to play, started the final four games, got a fumble and a football letter for his letterman’s jacket he still wears 7 years later. Or the Argentinean girl who always wanted to sing in a American high school choir. Not only did she get accepted into the a cappella group, she was given a solo in the final concert of the year. 
  • Sometimes the impact is large by students’ discovering what they really want to do in life like the girl who went to The Netherlands where her surgeon host father invited her to observe a surgery. She decided to become a RN and is in nursing school right now. Or the Swedish girl who arrived in the US wanting to be a medical doctor. When a Rotarian in her club took her to a friend’s veterinary clinic where she observed all afternoon, she realized she wanted to be a veterinarian instead and she is now a practicing veterinarian in Sweden.
  • Sometimes students become “daughters” or “sons” or “sisters” or “brothers” and because they are now “family, they are invited to big celebrations, like the student who has been in contact for over 40 years with the Rotary Counselor and first Host Family of which the Host Mom was also a RYE student. Their families have exchanged trips back and forth many times throughout the years. There are literally THOUSANDS who have made lifelong “family” in another country.
  • Sometimes students are amazed by the amount of club service compared to back home. They want to do more so many have started Interact or Rotaract Clubs at home where there were none before.
  • Sometimes students want to make a difference or change the world after their exchange so they study International Law or Environmental Science or Medicine or Economics or Languages so they can work at their state capitals or clinics or as scientists in the rainforest or a major research hospital or even at the United Nations. They become a Rotarian or become an ESL teacher or join the Peace Corps or become a Rotary Peace Scholar.
  • Sometimes students have gotten to meet quite influential people while on their exchange like the RI President while building the Rotary float at the Rose Bowl Parade or meeting the US Ambassador to Brazil, Spain, Norway or Japan or meeting the US Secretary of State John Kerry while in Romania. There is a former exchange student from another district who even worked for the Dalai Lama and Bishop Desmond Tutu!
To give you an idea of the scope of Rotary Youth Exchange, in a conservative estimate for the 2018-2019 year, when ONE student came into direct contact with 4 Rotarians (Club YEO, Club President, Inbound Chair, District YE Chair) and there were 9,337 students worldwide X 4 = over 37,000 Rotarians in ONE year!Add to that the number of people ONE student comes into contact with during day-to-day life in a conservative estimate: +/- 255 people: (Host families, neighbors, Host School, Teachers and School Administrators, Student’s Sponsoring Rotary Club and Student’s Host Rotary Club).The impact of 9,337 students in 2018-19 in one year: 255 x 9,337 = 2.38 million people in ONE year!!
In a very real way, when your club hosts or sponsors a student, you are fulfilling what Past RI President, John Kenny said quoting a Chinese proverb; “One generation plants the trees, another generation gets the shade.”He went on to say, “the work that each Rotarian and each club undertakes for the Youth Exchange program is not unlike the work of planting a tree. As we cultivate, prune and care for it, we will see the results when young people return home and show a deeper understanding of peacemaker challenges and the importance of Rotary’s global nature.”
And this from Past RI President Carl-Wilheim Stenhammar who said“It is a dream of mine….to have every 17-year-old become an exchange student. If these young people have the chance to learn that their peers around the world want the same things as they do - to make the best out of life - we shall have no more wars.”Peace Building and Conflict Resolution in action!
To get involved or simply more information, please contact Donna Goetzenberger, District 5495 at 602-469-1293 or Machel Considine, Inbound Chair at 480-235-0814.