Alex Flanagan seen below with his parents is our Rotary Youth Exchange student just before leaving to study in Japan. This Monday, January 7th we'll get all the news and updates about his adventures.
Kate Rojales pictured below visits the Pyramids of Teotihuacan, an ancient Mesoamerican city and one of the most popular attractions in Mexico. She is our second presenter and sure bring a ton excitement to her presentation.
The following article by Carson Cook was clipped from the Alpharetta Roswell Herald web site.
ALPHARETTA, Ga. — Alpharetta native Kate Rojales’s life was changed when she spent a gap year studying abroad in Puebla, Mexico thanks to a Rotary Club scholarship.
“I will never be the same again, and part of my heart will always be in my second home,” Rojales said.
The Rotary Youth Exchange program began in 1929, but Rojales was part of the inaugural class from Georgia. The 2017 to 2018 school year saw nine Georgians visit abroad and six inbound students attending local high schools.
Over the course of the academic year, exchange students attended local schools and lived with host families. The program is aimed at students 15 to 19 years old and is a great way to gain independence before starting college, Rojales said.
“I think we get a deeper understanding of who we are, because we remove ourselves from our family, our culture, our school, our community. All of that changes, and we can see who we are, who we stand for, who we want to be,” she said.
Rotary District 6900, which includes Fulton County, exchanges with about 30 countries in Latin America, Europe and Asia. The Rotarians choose where to send students based on their preferences.
“I was very fortunate to go to one of my top countries,” Rojales said.
In addition to the confidence, maturity and perseverance she gained through the program, Rojales said one of the main benefits was the opportunity to meet people from around the world and develop her language skills.
“One of the primary reasons I applied for the program was I had studied Spanish for nine years, but was conversant, not fluent. I was really trying to be fluent in Spanish and thought immersion would be perfect, and it was. I became fully fluent in Spanish,” she said.
Rojales said students don’t necessarily need to know the language of their host country when they begin the program, but they will definitely develop those skills during their stay.
Youth exchange participants stay with a host family, typically three different homes over the year.
“I think it’s great because we get to know other sides of a culture and different lifestyles within our one year studying abroad,” Rojales said.
During her stay, Rojales unlearned some of the preconceptions she had about Mexico. She previously associated the country with warm beaches, but her host city of Puebla is nestled in the cooler central highlands.
“I learned about Cinco de Mayo and Day of the Dead and traditional foods, but getting to live there I realized that culture is so much more than just history, language, food, traditions. It’s really how people think and feel as a country,” Rojales said.
Rojales said one stereotype she found exaggerated was that Mexicans are always late. While this is sometimes true, the stereotype persists because Mexican culture puts greater value on living in the moment and quality time with friends and family, Rojales said.
“The importance on relationships and family, that value is something I definitely am trying to incorporate into my life back in the U.S.,” she said.
Moving to another country for a year was hard at times, especially for her family back home.
“I know they missed me so much because they had to look at my empty chair at the dinner table, walk by my empty room, but they still knew it was an amazing opportunity,” Rojales said.
The Rotary Youth Exchange program covers room, board, tuition and language training for accepted students, with individuals and their families only responsible for airfare, travel insurance, travel documents and spending money.
The program has an estimated $24,000 value that cost Rojales’s family only about $5,500. She is headed off to her first year at Baylor University this fall, but she wants to share this opportunity with other students before she goes.
The selection process includes an online application, school recommendation and extensive interviews. Students usually know if they are accepted by early December.
The deadline to apply for the program is Nov. 1, but interested students first need to attend an information session along with a parent or guardian.
District 6900 will hold information sessions from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16 at Emory University conference room 5-C, 1599 Clifton Road, and Wednesday, Aug. 22 at Two Perimeter Plaza 2nd floor conference center, 5607 Glenridge Dr.
More information about the program can be found at ryeflorida.org/district-6900.