"Did you read stories as a child? Did you wonder what life was like for the heroes of the tales in far off lands? What would it be like to time travel? To be transported to a world entirely unlike your own? To think in other languages, and meet an array of whimsical characters? This I believe, was my core inspiration for applying to Rotary Youth Exchange. Once I was introduced to the exchange student from Poland in my high school, I was very curious about how she got herself in such a situation. By asking many questions, I began to get very excited. She described Rotary and its exchange program as something that seemed like a real opportunity. It became a little more evident that the world that I grew up in- Lloydminster, Canada was a very small part of a vast array of cultural possibilities. Those cultures, languages, and experiences were far away, but very numerous and very tantalizing. What if you could be transported into one, not as a tourist, but as someone living day to day: taking the subway to a school that’s operating in a strange language, getting groceries from the market in a cobblestoned square, celebrating annual traditions that you hadn’t heard of a year ago. Or perhaps you ride your bike down the mountain to school, or walk with a sibling in the early morning to the bakery. I knew for certain that whatever the experience was- I desired the sort of adventure that allowed me to live in another country, not just visit its sights in the distant future when I became an adult with a couple weeks of travel time. So, that was the inspiration. The spark, the motivation. The actual experience, as it is for every exchange student, was impossible to accurately anticipate. When I boarded that plane bound for Germany, armed with little more than curiosity and enthusiasm, I couldn’t conceive what lay ahead. I was aware that one of the most important parts of my year were going to be the people. No matter the setting, people make the memories. I can’t speak generally about what exchange students experience, but I can honestly talk about what I experienced. The first few months were a whirlwind. My first host family was extremely welcoming and supportive. I spent 5 months with them, which took us right through Christmas. After switching families -the school remaining a constant- I’d been in the country long enough for the language to catch. After months of effort and energy, I was finally at a stage where I could communicate naturally in German. My relationships flourished. As winter turned to spring, I became more confident in friendships, and by the time that the infamous “Karneval” commenced, I felt I knew my surroundings. The year was not without stresses, and the lowest point of my exchange was followed by the most magnificent period of acceptance. When I moved to my third host family, I was sifting through doubts in my mind and feeling a bit lost. It was planned that I would stay with them for only a month and then switch to a final, then undetermined, fourth host family. But after three weeks with the wonderful crew, they approached me and asked if I would not rather spend the rest of the remaining three months with them since I fit so well in their team. This touched me deeply, and of course I said yes. With my third family, I remember the end of the year as a dream. We understood eachother so well, and I grew to truly foster a sense of belonging in that world. Visiting my first and second host families during this time was a treat since I could reminisce and communicate with improved language skills. They remained a support to me until the end. Whatever Rotary Youth Exchange is, it’s an adventure. One that had a profound effect on me. Years later, I think of my families and friends across the sea often. I still smile into space remembering breakfast traditions, first phrases, close moments, jigsaw puzzles, tea with my host mother, and jokes with my host father. The year broadened my world, and only added to my appreciation of strange people and places. An exchange experience has my highest recommendation."