Brendan attended St. Joe’s High School – until now!  Now he is in Belgium as a Rotary Youth Exchange.   Brendan is showing the true spirit of an exchange student.  Always say yes.  Don’t give up.   Early into his 2010 2011 exchange  – here is his story….. Brendan (in red) along with all the students in the Flemish side of Belgium

When I was in about grade 6 I heard about the Rotary Youth Exchange. I was a kid who always loved to travel so the idea of getting a chance to take off for a year and live in a different country and explore was immediately exciting for me. Little did I know the emotional rollercoaster I was going on. I applied for the exchange in grade 10 which is the first year you can apply. I went through the entire process only to be told I was not going to get the exchange, but they encouraged me to come back the next year. It shook me up for a long time after that because I was so confident that I had it and to be told otherwise – well,  it hurt. By the time the next year came around to go and apply I felt way more ready. I was a completely different person. I didn’t go into the interview nervous but more confident then I had ever remembered. They commented on me coming back which was something they recommend to everyone but very few actually do,  I just told them that I would be back every year until I was either too old or I was chosen to go. I was told it was like a different person doing the interview compared to the person from last year,  and I got the exchange. Then the journey began.

The Rotary clubs are some of the most supportive people for exchange students I have ever met. I noticed that right away when I was introduced as the exchange student for my club at my first meeting. It had been a long wait from the end of October 2009 to August 21st 1010 but when it finally arrived I felt ready to go on this adventure. I had already said good-bye to all my friends because I wanted it to be just me and my parents at the airport.

It was definitely hard. But I just look at this trip one day at a time and I did that at the airport too, which made it easier. I gave both my parents hugs then I went past security and onto the plane. Didn’t even shed a tear that day but I know that it must have been really hard on my parents. I’m an only child so when I left they were home alone and the house must have felt empty. I flew all night and arrived on the morning of the 22nd. I walked past the security checkpoint and into the waiting area where I saw my family and some Rotary members waiting with a bright sign that said “Welkom Brendan”, it was an amazing feeling to be feeling that welcomed right away. We drove home and that night they had a party for their daughter who was going away on exchange 2 days later. Just the trip alone allowed me to learn how to travel better alone which was something I haven’t really done before. The number one thing I think I’ve learned is that home really isn’t a building or an area of land. It’s where you feel comfortable being “you” without worry or fear of being discriminated against. Being here has allowed me to be reborn. Allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and become myself. I’m still growing into myself and I’m far from knowing who I truly am but I know that this trip will help me.

Another one of my goals for this year is to pretty much become a “yes man” for a year. Take every opportunity that’s given to you and don’t be afraid of new experiences. I mean I’ve been so busy by doing this that I’m booked 5 weeks in advance. It’s a great way to make sure that you have a successful exchange plus it keeps you from feeling homesick simply because you just don’t have the time. Some things I’ve been invited to do/done are.

Join scouts
Join a men’s hockey team
Go to weddings
Join a men’s baseball team
Off-roading for a weekend
Scuba diving
School trips
and so much more.

I remember sitting on a bus on my orientation weekend in Edmonton and an inbound came over to talk to me and I’ll always remember what he said. “This is your year, Brendan. Don’t waste a minute of it.” He’s so right. I’m here in Belgium loving every minute of it. Life is too precious a gift to be squandered on home sickness and sitting around all gloomy. Live your exchange as best you can and regret nothing. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, so capitalize on it and have a blast.