Am I eligible to be a Rotary Exchange Student?
The Rotary Youth Exchange program is open to high school students, or those who have just graduated, between the ages of 15½ and 18½ on departure (as of August 1 in the year of departure). Exchange student candidates must be outgoing, self-confident, friendly, adaptable, and adventurous, willing to learn a foreign language, with above average grades in school (2.75 GPA or in the Top 50% of your class). The application form will require you to tell about yourself your family, and provide references from school teachers and/or administrators.
What is the long-term program? Rotary offers two types of exchanges for high school students. For a truly amazing, life-changing experience, there is nothing like the long-term exchange. Students spend a year in another country, becoming fluent in the language and immersed in the culture, and developing friendships that will last a lifetime. Participants attend high school, and may or may not get credit back home for courses taken (but colleges often recognize the value of exchange programs, with credit for language ability and greater acceptance rates!). Each student will have up to three (or more) host families throughout the year, to broaden the experience and see the variations that exist in all cultures. It takes a very special teenager to consider him or herself capable of spending a year abroad, but the rewards and experiences are unlike anything you may ever know again. If you think you can do this, don’t let the opportunity pass you by.
What is the short-term program? Interested in a taste of the world, and willing to share yours with others? Then the short-term program may be for you. Rotary’s short-term exchange program usually takes place during the summer, and brings together paired families from different countries. Typically, you would spend 3-8 weeks overseas with a family that has a son or daughter of approximately the same age. And then, you and your new host sibling would come back to the US for a 3-8 week stay with your family (the order can be reversed, with the foreign student coming here first – whichever works best for the families is fine). The short-term program does not generally include school attendance, and instead provides its educational experiences through exposure to a new language and culture. Naturally, the friendships that develop often last a long time, with repeat visits a very common occurrence. For younger students, or perhaps those wanting to sample the experience before committing to the long-term program, Rotary’s short-term exchange program can be ideal. To learn more, review the District 6220’s Summer Exchange Program at Short Term Exchange (rye6220.org).
Do I get to choose my country? A very popular question. And the answer is, yes and no. For short-term exchanges, since they involve family-to-family reciprocal arrangements, we make every effort to accommodate country preferences. It may not always be possible to grant a student’s first choice. Long-term exchanges work differently, in that students from our exchange partners will be coming here for a year, and we have built relationships with these counterparts over many years. The countries we exchange with are those we know run top-quality programs, and we re-evaluate them each year. There are a limited number of exchanges available with each country, and we will not overload any country in either direction. Therefore, for long-term students, we ask you to select from about 40 countries. Remember, flexibility is a vital characteristic for a successful exchange student, and that starts right at the beginning.
Do I have to know another language? No, not at all. Naturally, it would help to have some familiarity with the language of the country you go to, for either the short or long-term program. One of the great benefits of the long-term program is quickly gaining fluency in another language. Typically, our students become fluent in 4-5 months, even without any previous knowledge of the language! But we do require that all participants start learning their target language as soon as they are assigned to their host country. The more of the language you know up front, the better your experience will be.
Will I get school credit for my exchange year? This is always a tough question because it varies from school to school and country to country. You should sit down with your school counselors when you apply and when you know what country you are going to for your year. Pre-planning makes a big difference. If you have questions contact your Rotary Youth Exchange Officer or the District RYE Chair.
Is there any future advantage to being a Rotary Exchange Student? Yes! Past history has indicated that having the Rotary Exchange Year on your college application carries more weight in many cases than your GPA, class ranking, or even SAT or ACT score. Colleges are looking for students who are going to successfully complete their studies and graduate. By completing a full year exchange in another culture you are showing them that you have the “right stuff”. Future employers will take similar views of your year’s experience, not to mention the benefits of becoming bi-lingual or bi-cultural!
What if I have problems during my exchange? The design of the Rotary Exchange program is such that if you have problems we have the resources to help you solve the problems, starting with a Rotary Club right in the community in which you are living. You will have multiple avenues of help available to you to resolve any problems that might come up. Rotary International and Rotarians in District 6220 take very seriously our responsibility for the safety and security of all Rotary exchange students, both inbound and outbound. In November, 2006, the Board of Directors of Rotary International adopted the following Statement of Conduct for Working with Youth: “Rotary International strives to create and maintain a safe environment for all youth who participate in Rotary activities. Rotarians, Rotarians’ spouses, partners, and other volunteers must safeguard the children and young people they come in contact with and protect them from physical, sexual and emotional abuse.”
Do my parents have to host an inbound student? For short-term exchanges, the answer is Yes. Those are family-to-family exchanges, and you will be paired with a foreign family that has a son or daughter of roughly your age. It is up to the two families to decide which student travels first. For long-term exchanges, parents of outbound students are not required to host. Many, of course, choose to do so, partly because they have an empty room, but also so they can experience some of what their son or daughter is going through. We encourage that, but we also recognize that not all families are able to host. We do ask outbound students and their families to recommend any families they may know who would be interested in hosting.
OK, bottom line, what does it cost? Probably a lot less than you think. You see, Rotarians are all volunteers, so there are no salaries or commissions paid to the people who administer this program. The single-fee structure used in District 6220 is $6,500, and this fee covers most of the arrangements to get you overseas. Included in this fee is the cost of the three orientations, student materials and supplies, insurance, airfare, etc.
Long Term Program Once you are overseas, your expenses are provided by the host Rotary Club, including your room and board, education (often at a private school), and a monthly allowance from their host Rotary club (usually the equivalent of about $100.00 USD, but may vary by location). If you want or need spending money beyond that, it is up to you and your parents to provide it. Long Term students are also required to deposit an Emergency Fund of $500 USD with their host Rotary Club, to be used for unexpected expenses (medical, dental, telephone, etc.). If it is not used, it is returned to you at the end of the year.
Short Term Program There is a $ 250.00 dollar administration fee which includes the cost of processing, supplemental Life and Medical Insurance while abroad, Rotary Polo Shirt and an orientation session. You and your parents are responsible for the cost of your airline ticket, as well as any visa or other travel documents that may be required (Note: if you don’t already have a passport, you will need to obtain one, at your own expense). Additionally, you will need to bring spending money while abroad, and you and your family should budget appropriately for the time that you and your exchange partner are together here. Those costs, obviously, are variable and up to you to determine.
How do I apply? All applications must be sponsored by a local Rotary Club, so it’s important that you make contact with a club in your area. If you don’t know who to contact, get in touch with one of our District officers listed here.
What if we just want to host an inbound student?
Rotary Clubs are always looking for potential host families. If you’d like to enrich your family’s experience by bringing in a Rotary exchange student, contact your local Rotary Club, or look here. And thanks so much for your interest!