Rotary Exchange sponsors students for worldwide travel

When sophomore Yoon Ki was younger, she would take frequent trips to visit her family in Korea, so she was used to traveling and had grown fond of the activity.

As Ki got older, her worldly experiences diminished. She was exposed to East Asian culture and Latin American culture, but she was curious to experience other cultures, so to gain a ‘broader global perspective”, she googled “foreign exchange” and stumbled upon the Rotary Youth Exchange program.

Their motto is, service above self, a motto that Ki herself believes in. “I do really believe in service above self, and I do believe that’s a really good way to go about life,” Ki said.

Greatly interested in helping out in a community other than her own, she applied for the program.

Ki had no specific country in mind when signing up. She just wanted to expand her knowledge of the “European perspective.”

“I am talking to a lot of the kids who came from Europe this year. They have a very different perspective on life, and I want to know where that is coming from. I am very inquisitive about other cultures,” Ki said.

Ki applied to the program without others knowledge. She wanted to share good news, so she decided she would let her family know if she was accepted for an interview. “When I got accepted, I was like ‘Oh, hey mom, I have an interview for the second round of acceptance for this thing that I signed up for.’ She was like ‘What did you sign up for?’ I was like, ‘Oh, just foreign exchange.’ She was just like ‘Oh, OK.’”

Once she passed the second round of acceptance, Ki was told she will be living in southwestern France, in a small town called Villeneuve-de-Rivière, with a population of 1,500 people next school year. Ki will stay with three different host families during her time to maximize her exposure to the differences in culture.

After she was accepted, Ki got involved in a multi language Snapchat group. In it were students from all over the world who were participating in the Rotary Exchange and traveling to Mexico, other parts of Europe and many other parts of the world. Ki, who is currently in French I class, was comforted by students with a wide range of French exposure. “There is this big group chat of kids, and there are kids that haven’t spoken a lick of French in their entire lives, and there are kids that have gone through French IV, like college level French,” Ki said.

Preparing for a Rotary trip is tough because the native tongue is so much different than languages taught in high school. “Kids that have already gone and come back said that regardless of how much French you learned before, the language is just so different than what you’re used to learning. The native tongue is a lot faster, and the dialect is a lot different. Either way, you’re going to struggle,” Ki said.

No matter how many challenges Ki faces in the next year, she said she believes that the struggling is an integral part of the learning process. “I believe that immersion is the fastest way to learn another language,” Ki said.

During her year in France, Ki will be enrolled in a pass-fail high school program, mostly receiving elective credits. Ki is not distressed about the credits she could be receiving here at the high school because she knows she is learning something she wouldn’t be if she were sitting in an American high school for 180 days. “I’m really going to learn more about the culture and the language than the classes,” Ki said.

Once Ki makes her long plane ride to France, she will stay there the rest of the year, not returning home for any breaks. “I’d just rather stay there and experience what the holidays are like there,” Ki said. “I’m pretty excited to see how they celebrate holidays. I know the town I am going to is highly religious, so it will be interesting because they are famous for some really beautiful cathedrals.”

On top of desiring to learn more about the European perspective and others around the world, Ki said she is excited about her self discoveries as well. “I’m hoping to learn about myself, who I am, without the influence of those who have shaped me in my life. I am constantly surrounded by my friends and family, but what happens when they are not there? It’s just, I don’t know who I am,” Ki said.

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