How RYE Changed Me – Elizabeth – France 2013-2014

wehrenbergHow RYE Changed Me

Spain IB Orientation - 3

I used to think that the sky only stretched on for as far as I could see, and then where my vision became blurred, the world ceased to exist. I used to think that happiness came from surrounding yourself by things that brought you comfort. I used to think the best friends I would ever have, were the ones I’d known forever. I used to think that in order to call someone family meant they had to be related by blood. And I used to think that home, only had one name. But that was before. Before I packed my faith in a suitcase, and my fear in a carry-on, and boarded a plane with no known destination. You see, people had told me time and time again, that my year abroad would be the best one of my life. That it would change the way I saw everything. “Even 30 years from now”, they told me, “You will look back and realize nothing in your life will ever be as much fun”. I don’t know about that. Yes, my year abroad has been the best year of my life and yes, my year abroad has changed everything for me. But as for me looking back at age 47 on my year, I hope that I will see my exchange as the year that started a lifetime of adventure. You see before, had you of asked me what my future consisted of, I would have described it as “like a super cool senior year”, filled … Read More

How RYE Changed Me – Samy – Switzerland

wehrenbergHow RYE Changed Me

From Samy who spent the year in Switzerland I left the United States crying my eyes out, hugging my family, and wondering, in the clearest of words: “What have I gotten myself into this time?” I did not know, at that teary-eyed, made-for-tv-moment, that I had gotten myself into the change of my life. I was also, blissfully unaware, that my entire worldview, self-image, and hopes for the future could so dramatically change in the span of one year. In short, I had not fully comprehended the tenacity of a Rotary Exchange Student. Upon arriving in the Zürich airport; I stared blankly at the crowd of people waiting outside for the arrival of a friend or family. It was then that I heard the voice of my first host mother, yelling out, accompanied by my host father and sister: ‘Sääääämy!’ I smiled up at them and gave my first host family a huge hug despite my jet-lagged exhaustion. On the car ride to my new home, I was desperate to show off my (depressingly minimal) German, and stuttering through my words I managed to say that I had a father, two brothers, a stiff mother, and two stiff sisters. My first steps into the German language were greeted with friendly laughing that I happily joined into, thusly teaching me my first lesson of living abroad: don’t take yourself too seriously. My first month in Switzerland could easily be renamed: “Sämy-Acts-Like-A-Tourist”. I believe my camera shutter blinked more often that I did. It passed by quickly … Read More

How RYE Changed Me – Mia – Germany

wehrenbergHow RYE Changed Me

From Mia who spent a year in Germany “Things aren’t better or worse, they are just different.” This sentence affected me the most during my exchange year. This year changed the way I think about myself, and my comparison to others. I learned a lot about myself. In my letter about myself, I essentially said I enjoyed being loud and having fun with my friends, played sports all the time, I enjoyed spending time with others more than being alone and that I wasn’t a shy person. If you met me now, after reading my letter, you would think I a) lied through most of the letter or b) am a completely different person than the one who actually wrote it. The Mia in that letter is who I thought I was. After this exchange, I feel like I have a much better picture of myself. I am shy, and furthermore, I enjoy the quietness of being alone ; I just always thought it was “uncool” so I never wanted it. I enjoy sports, but learned it was the competition that I loved, not the actual sport. I don’t have a million friends, but I really enjoy the fantastic best friends I have and the accompaniment of others I know. I also realized I am brave and self-confident and willing to go first and try new things, regardless if it is jumping from a 24.5 feet diving board into a cold pool or eating “traditional German food” day after day. This knowledge made it easier … Read More

How RYE Changed Me – Jacqui – France

wehrenbergHow RYE Changed Me

From Jacqui who spent the year in France I find it next to impossible to explain the changes I have found in myself as a result of this year. I have grown so much – mentally – and, unfortunately, physically. I am much more patient, confident, and independent. I arrived in France as a very strong and determined person, but at the same time, I was shy and naive and not quite ready for what was in store for me. Luckily I had great friends, host families and a wonderful family back home to support me and get me through the tough times. When I burst into tears on the bus, I had a great friend to hold my hand and tell me everything would be ok. When I panicked on my first day of school because I couldn’t find the entrance to my school, my host mom walked me in to show me the way. And when I felt lonelier than ever, it was my mom who I called to ask for advice. All of these difficult experiences led me to become the stronger person that I am today. Each experience, good and bad, has shaped me as a person. As a young American, I had gotten so wrapped up in “who said what” and what color my nails were that I never really realized that there was another world outside of my own. In fact, I had become bored with my teenage life. So, I decided to look for something more important to … Read More

How RYE Changed Me – Ellen – Brazil

wehrenbergHow RYE Changed Me

From Ellen who spent a year in Brazil My Youth Exchange experience has changed me in many ways. Some of these changes I anticipated, but most I could never have imagined. Most obviously, I have learned another language and learned about another culture. This has been important to me, but it only scratches the surface of what my experiences this year have taught me. The rose-colored glasses have definitely been taken off. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just the truth. One change I see in myself has to do with the way I communicate with others from day to day. I am better at communicating with people— or at least I communicate differently—I am more direct now. I feel that I am more open about what I tell people. I have always been a person who likes to express myself to others, but before my exchange I tried harder to please people. I still do like to please people as much as possible, but I know when to hold my ground. I am more assertive. Now I may even run the risk of being forward, whereas before I was too polite. I am still polite, but I am no longer afraid to ask things of people when it is necessary. All things considered, I believe the change was for the better. My exchange experience was wonderful. It taught me to better appreciate the things I have in this life: my family, the awesome relationship I have with my parents, the access I have to … Read More

How RYE Changed Me – Diana – Japan

wehrenbergHow RYE Changed Me

From Diana who spent the year in Japan As a Rotary Youth Exchange student I have experienced many changes in myself and in how I think and view the world. Developing the ability to see from other point of view, accepting that there are things that I cannot control, having a more mild temperament, and being more open to new people are just some of the changes my year abroad has brought about. One of the main changes I see in myself is that I have developed the ability to look outside of myself. In my everyday life, before the Youth Exchange, I made most decisions for myself without much concern for how they affected others. My first concern was myself. I ate when I wanted, went wherever I wanted, and developed my own opinions with very little care for anyone else. Having this mind set and living in a place such as Japan, which is very group-oriented, is not possible (or would be very difficult). If I had continued with my self-centered thinking while in Japan, I’m very sure I would not have completed my exchange. I had to begin to consider others around me and how they would be affected by my actions. Before I could make plans with friends, I had to consult with my host parents first, in case they had planned something. If I were to go ahead and do whatsoever I pleased I would have ended up either disappointing one or angering the other. Before expressing a bold opinion … Read More

How RYE Changed Me – Claire – Belgium

wehrenbergHow RYE Changed Me

From Claire who spent the year in Belgium My exchange year has been challenging, fun, enlightening, frustrating, shocking and interesting. For instance, I’ve learned that the bus will turn around and take you back to your bus stop if you didn’t recognize your bus stop to ring the bell in time. Also that singing in Portuguese with 200 other exchange students in the middle of the grand place in Brussels will attract Japanese tourist to try to take pictures with you. That dressing for winter means more than wearing a long sleeved shirt – but two sweaters and long underwear even though you’re going to school and it’s not below zero. That chocolate is made to spread on bread to make a quick lunch. And that fries and mayonnaise is a nutritional and balanced meal. During my exchange year I’ve also learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned that I’m strong and capable of living through new and difficult situations. I’ve learned that I don’t need anyone else to feel comfortable nor better about myself. I’ve learned how to be self confident and proud of who I am, my family, my country and my culture. I’ve learned that the key to happiness and getting along with others is to be flexible and to understand that their world is a lot smaller than mine. I’ve also learned how to be more open with others and that sharing my deeper emotions is essential at times. Before my year in Belgium I would never have described myself like … Read More

How RYE Changed Me – Anne – Germany

wehrenbergHow RYE Changed Me

From Anne who spent the year in Germany I think back on the person I was when I arrived in this country and, well, I don’t cringe, but I do feel like that girl is a different person than the person who I know myself to be today. And then I reflect: what is it about being exchange students that changes us? The uncomfortable situations that we somehow have to deal with, the tendency to forget our mother languages, the distance from our friends and family, or the way our eyes are really opened up to the world in this year?? I still have no idea. But I know that I am now more mature, more open, smarter, less serious, less naive, a little bit crazier, and without a doubt a better person due to this experience. When I arrived in Germany I expected to have a year filled with intensive German learning, a brutal workload at school, and travelling stuffed into the spare slots. I took it all rather seriously. I think I probably scared the first people I met. But whenever you are forced into a situation where you can either a) take initiative, be proactive, be approachable, make friends, and have a blast or b) be shy and alone, you are likely to suck up your pride, put a smile onto your face (although that smile may feel fake at first), and choose choice a. In such a “do or die” situation, (not to be dramatic at all) you will probably take … Read More

How RYE Changed Me – Anna – Ecuador

wehrenbergHow RYE Changed Me

From Anna who spent the year in Ecuador I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I applied to the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, no idea that this year would be so life changing, no idea how hard I would have to work, and, finally, no idea how heartbreaking it would be to go home. While at the first pre-exchange orientation I was doubtful. How could one year change my life so drastically? All of the rebound students say it. It changes your life and now I know what they mean. If asked to name how I have changed I stumble. How have I not changed? I feel I am more independent, assertive, and self-confident. I am now more aware of my own values and ideals. I have learned a lot about the perception of the United States in the eyes of those abroad and I have learned that just by taking the time to speak with someone can change that. I have realized that I can be fearless, that I can face the world with a reckless grin instead of a cautious face. Looking back I see I was completely oblivious to these changes as they were happening. I believe that having to become completely independent, immersed in a new culture causes this. It is such an instant change of environment that our rapid adaptation becomes who we are. I am not entirely certain how greatly this has affected my life but I feel that being able to walk up to … Read More