Exchange program offers insights no class can match
After nearly 10 months of preparation, EmilyGrandjean and Genelle Castro are almost ready to embark upon overseas trips.The girls, 16 and 15, are just two of the five exchange students the Rotary Club of Westerville Sunrise is sponsoring this year.
The Sunrise Club sponsors more local students through the Youth Exchange program than any other club in Central Ohio, said Walter Lundstrom, chairman of the club's exchange programs committee.
Rotary, a worldwide service organization, has a large network of clubs in more than 82 countries that participate in exchange programs, according to the organization's Web site.
The Rotary clubs and host families foot most of the costs for students traveling abroad, but students and their families are responsible for airfare.
Grandjean and Castro, both sophomores at Westerville North High School, will leave on short-term trips, about a month long, starting in mid-June -- Grandjean will go to Le Havre, France; and Castro to Hondarribia, Spain.
After reaching their destinations, they'll stay with host families who have children about the same age as they are and afterward, their host "sisters" will return with them to the U.S. for a short-term exchange of their own.
"We correspond through Facebook," Grandjean said. "We're just talking right now about where we want to go and what we want to do."
Castro, a soccer player, plans to play some in Spain, where the sport is the national pastime. She's been in communication with her host sister, as well.
"She's a little bit younger than me. We've been talking about what our friends are like, and we just got our flights set."
Lucas Miller, a junior at St. Charles Preparatory School, will participate in a short-term exchange in Buenos Aires, Argentina later this summer.
Long-term exchange students Greg Baumgartner, a senior at St. Charles; Greg Miller, a St. Charles junior; and Tatiana Lundstrom, a Westerville freshman -- Walter Lundstrom's daughter -- have a little longer to wait.
And when they go, they'll be gone for nearly a full year.
"It's mixed feelings," Lundstrom said of his daughter's plans to participate in the long-term exchange. "We are so happy for her, but she is a really fun person to be around. We're going to miss her."
Even though he'll miss Tatiana, Lundstrom is a big advocate of parents allowing their children to participate in the exchange program, long term or short term.
"I always say that the great things with exchange students is that they're less likely to do stupid things (when they get to college) because they've tasted freedom," he said. "One year of exchange gives you seven years of maturity."
Rotary's exchange program isn't just a free trip. Students selected for the program must attend weekend training sessions to prepare them for culture shock and must write four papers and give a detailed presentation to the Westerville Rotary club on their host country.
The hosting Rotary club places similar requirements on the students once they arrive.
"There's a bunch of really tough rules," Grandjean said. "The expectations are a lot higher among the students."
That's something that inbound students Annella Fullard and Gulmira Kadyrova have learned first hand. Fullard, from Australia, arrived in the U.S. in January from Australia for a year-long exchange, and Kadyrova came in September from Kyrgzystan.