Growing up, my friends went on vacation to Disney World and all inclusive resorts. I took road trips through Nova Scotia, Ireland, Costa Rica and the United Kingdom. Instead of amusement parks and Caribbean cruises, we went to Northern Vermont for hiking in the summer and maple-sugaring in the spring. I grew up learning to appreciate history, other cultures, and authenticity, rather than being satisfied with a facade designed for tourists. My parents instilled in me and my sisters a desire to experience the world around us, not only through actively traveling, but through the books that they read to us and I then later read on my own. I dreamed of visiting far-off places and living life in other cultures.
So when I discovered Rotary Youth Exchange, I knew that it was something I was meant to take part in.
RYE is a year long study abroad program for high school students ages 15-18 all over the globe run by the service organization Rotary International. It is intended to broaden horizons and expose youth to cultures and languages other than their own in an effort to promote world peace and understanding.
Through RYE, I spent my sophomore year of high school living abroad in Helmstedt, Germany. I became part of two German families, attended school, met incredible individuals, and spent three weeks traveling throughout Europe. Every expectation I had about life in a foreign country was exceeded, and the only sad thing about living overseas was coming home.
If you ever have the opportunity to live or study abroad, take it! It was one of the most amazing (and trying) times in my life, but I also learned so many things about myself that I would never have realized had I stayed home. After experiencing life in Europe, I decided that South America was next, and chose to take a gap year before entering college. Currently I reside in Quito, Ecuador.
If you’re interested in study abroad in high school or taking a gap year, talk to your local Rotary Club and check out Rotary Youth Exchange (if a full year away isn’t for you, there are also short term summer options available). If you want to read more about the first year I spent overseas, check out the blog I sort-of kept while I was away, Dreaming in Germany.