Delaware Hayes High School student Kaitlynn Johnson will be spending her junior year in Brazil as a Rotary exchange student, starting in August.
About 1,000 American high school students will go overseas with Rotary during the 2016-17 school year, with students from their host countries coming to the United States.
Being an exchange student offers many opportunities as well as challenges, and to get some insight into the experience, Kaitlynn responded to a series of questions:
Rand: You went with four other Dempsey Middle School students to Sakata, Japan, in the summer of 2014. What did you learn from that trip?
Kaitlynn: I learned that every society, country, region and even family has a different lifestyle and opinions than every other in the world. But that isn’t a bad thing. Difference in the world we live in today is good. It allows minds to open and think about things in a different way and on a different level.
Rand: How did you hear about the Rotary program?
Kaitlynn: I heard about Rotary shortly after we got back from Japan and gave a presentation to City Council about our trip. I think my parents were asked if they would host an inbound exchange student. They said yes and we hosted Ceres Fischer from Berlin, Germany, for four months this past school year. That was when I really learned about Rotary and youth exchange. I started attending some monthly weekend orientation meetings and decided to fill out an application.
Rand: What did you learn from hosting Ceres?
Kaitlynn: It was amazing hosting Ceres. I think everyone should host. You gain such a close bond to the person that is here. Ceres is my third sister. We grew so close, and I’m so sad to see her leave. It allowed me to see another perspective on the world.
Rand: Are you excited about going to Brazil? Where in the country will you be?
Kaitlynn: I am very excited. I will be in the southeast, in the state of Sao Paolo, and in the city of Mogi das Cruzes.
Rand: Do you know much about your first host family and the school you will attend next year?
Kaitlynn: My first host family is the Conattis. I will have five host siblings. Three live at home and another is on exchange in Australia right now. I have been in touch with them. They also have two dogs. I will be going to a private school there and will have to wear a school uniform.
Rand: What sort of preparation have you had for your exchange?
Kaitlynn: Our Rotary District 6690 hosts monthly training weekends where you get to interact with the inbound students from other countries and the other outbound students from our area. They prepare you for exchange in a number of ways. They have you write four essays on your city and country. We also had lessons on culture shock along with the six B’s (be first, be curious, be on purpose, be grateful, be of service, and be here now) and the four D’s (don’t drink, don’t drive, don’t date, don’t do drugs). Along with that, I have worked on my Portuguese.
Rand: Are there hobbies or interests that you would like to pursue while you are in Brazil?
Kaitlynn: Dance for sure!
Those who are interested in learning more about Rotary youth exchange can visit the program website at www.rye6690.org. Qualified applicants must be between the ages of 15 and 18½ at the time of departure.
In addition to the long-term exchange program, there is also a short-term summer option. Rotary District 6690 generally has 12-15 long-term inbound students, 12-15 outbounds and 20 short-termers each year. So at any given time, the district committee is working with about 45 students.
Rand Guebert is a member of the Delaware Rotary Club and an officer of the Rotary District 6690 youth exchange committee.