I was just writing a note to a person on an exchange student forum, and I thought I would share my thoughts with you. We were discussing how some areas of the world don’t understand the purpose of Rotary Youth Exchange, and therefore, don’t do anything to support the student.
Year after year our club has fantastic, interesting, and delightful exchange students. How do I know? Because we integrate our students into our club and get to know them. Students chosen for this program tend to be talented, fascinating kids who are travelling to broaden their experiences and to prepare to make a difference in the world. We send fantastic kids abroad to share them with another part of the world. I am sad when I hear about clubs who miss the opportunity to know the amazing kids that they have under their noses, so here is my advice to Rotary Clubs all over the world, prefaced by my core belief that when a club agrees to host a student, EACH member of the club has an obligation to that student.
Each member of the club should make an effort to,
1. make them welcome to the country, city, and club
get to know who they are, greet them on the street, and invite them to attend club meetings, projects, and events, and personal activities.
2. include them in club activities
that means when exchange students are at a club event, you integrate them by having them sit with members, you speak to them, you encourage them to participate in the program somehow. Listen.
3. show interest in them, their experience, their home country
Ask them about their hobbies and interests, and how things are similar and different in their home area. Your way isn’t the only way. Your students have experiences to share with you, just like you have experiences to share with them. Listen.
4. welcome them into your home and family activities if you can.
Even if you are not able to host a student in your home, you can include them into your activities. When you know your students’ hobbies and interests, you can more easily identify opportunities to include them. The student likes sports? You can invite them to a local game- even free ones played by your grandkids. Your student plays an instrument? You can invite them to attend a recital or concert. Your student loves history? Take them to a local site you know well. If you know what your student hasn’t experienced, you can invite them along on simple family events. One of my more memorable experiences in Finland was foraging for mushrooms in the woods with a family!
5. share in their local experiences.
Consider yourselves the students’ family. If they are participating in a concert, a sporting match, or speeches, go along to cheer and celebrate.
These inclusions are fantastic for everyone involved. Your club learns more about the world, and more about your country by seeing it through the eyes of another perspective. You will improve your club’s experience with your students, and your students will have a more memorable, and more valuable exchange year by having the opportunity to know you all. You will feel blessed by experience.
Don’t waste your exchange students. Celebrate them!