I first heard of the exchange when I was in Grade 6, around 11 years old. My mom had
mentioned it in passing but I never gave it much thought, and I had no previous experience
with the Exchange Program. Then when I was in Grade 10, at 14, I heard of an exchange
student from Thailand who had just landed in Grande Prairie for her own exchange. I was
taken aback at how brave she was from leaving her home and travelling all the way to our
northern little city, and decided I wanted to do that too. I always loved travelling. So I saw
this as a wonderful experience to see the world, as well as make friends.
I started to apply around my 15th birthday. It was a very exciting experience that brought me closer to my parents and teachers. I knew where I was going by January – to a small,
wonderful country called Belgium. Shortly after I found out where I was going, I met the
families who volunteered to take me in. Through various social media apps I was able to
text, email and facetime them. In addition to meeting my host families, I got to meet other
international students who were heading to Belgium for their own exchange years!
I arrived in Belgium in August of 2018. The first month was like a fairytale. I was able to see castles, went on a train for the first time alone, learned how to ride a bike on a very busy street and how Belgian school worked. In October I traveled to Paris (where I spent my 16th birthday!) and Barcelona. Before Christmas I had been to at least 5 different countries!
While I was traveling, I was able to become friends with some truly amazing people. My host families were very supportive and helped me in any way possible (even if that meant
sending me train schedules when I got lost) or being very accepting of all of my friends. I
was very fortunate and made a friend the first day of school.
I had trouble learning the language, but I did receive help from my host families and friends. I learned many life lessons from all of my new international friends, my host families and from being away from home for so long.
My family here in Canada was very supportive while I was applying, when I was gone and
once I came home. They were with me every step of the way. I kept a blog while I was away. Updating it after a particularly exciting adventure, or on the hour long bus ride to and from school. By doing so I was able to update my friends and family in Canada.
I truly loved the people I met on exchange, they changed my life for the better. I am still
reeling from all of the adventures, that I was able to visit so much of Europe before I turned 18. I am forever grateful to the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Exchange allowed me to check off most of my bucket list, meet people who I am certain will change the world, and make life long friendships with not only other students but my host families as well. `