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Rotary Exchange Program Offers Unique Opportunities

While many seniors spend the summer after graduation ordering their dorm room necessities and connecting with potential future college roommates, a select few are making sure their passports are in order. They have put off college for one year to physically immerse themselves in a foreign country.

The Rotary Student Exchange Program is especially designed for post-high school graduates who live, travel, and learn abroad with host families for one year.

Founded in Chicago in 1905, Rotary is a worldwide organization that follows the motto “Service Above Self,” servicing in various communities throughout the world. The Westport Rotary Club and the Sunrise Rotary Westport Club together contain over 120 members who dedicate their time towards doing progressive amount of work for social causes.

Alex Nitkin ’10 and Christopher Sledge ’10 plan to travel through Rotary next year. Lily Watson ’11 has scheduled to travel after her senior year, as well.

“The program sounds very unique, and I want to challenge myself to do something different for a change that might not necessarily be easy at first,” Watson said. She hopes to stay with a host family in Argentina, yet does not find out about where she will be living until one month prior to leaving.

For preparation, Watson completed “an enormous application process” and studied the Spanish language in school in order to be able to communicate with Argentians. She decided to take part in this program to “gain a new perspective on what it’s like to live in a different country, speak a new language fluently, and to learn about the culture and the people of the place where [she] will be living.”

Yet, Watson is not completely fearless. “I’m nervous about being away from my family for too long,” she said. “But, the scariest thing is that I will have to take high school classes in an entirely different language. I can barely understand science in English.”

Sledge is also looking forward to traveling, and admits to being most excited about  “entering [his] studies with a renewed, refined perspective on life and academics.” He has chosen to stay in Brazil, so in preparation, he has begun watching Brazilian movies to help smooth the barrier between Spanish and Portuguese.

According to Sledge, he chose Brazil for “the vast cultural differences, along with the sound of the language.” Yet, he added how its “awesome weather was also a part of it.”

Dennis Wong, a Board Member at the Sunrise Rotary states that its main goals are to “bring service to the community, and provide international work towards world peace.” This specific component of Rotary helps to achieve those ambitions.

Yet, since it is a voluntary organization, and somewhat of a unique program, Sandra Urist, a member of the Youth Exchange Committee, explained how she has trouble attaining volunteers and students who want to travel abroad. Although she publicizes the program to the best of her ability throughout Connecticut, she said that each year there are more foreign students that apply to stay in America, than Americans who apply to stay in foreign countries. “[Westport teens] do not always seek out international travel opportunities at this age,” Urist said.

Urist hopes that in the future, the program will become more popular among Westport teenagers, because she believes that students who partake in the program “acquire a love for travel, and a love for the world.”

17–year–old Roman Smolyar from Ukraine is the only foreign member of the Westport Rotary this year, and is a current student at Staples.

Youth Exchange Officer Jim Pendry explained how Roman has gotten the chance to “get to know another culture, learn about other people, and gain life-long friends.”

Pendry further described what a “fabulous opportunity” the Rotary program is, and how he strongly believes that anyone who takes part in it is fortunate.

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