I made myself a cup of tea and noticed a small label on the tea bag. This tea brand hangs a question on every tea bag, as a topic of conversation. My label asked, “What was your greatest adventure?”
Rotary and the greatest adventure. Not a connection that everyone would make, but it’s the first thing that came to my mind. The dark month of December and this strange year may also cause some melancholy. My Rotary adventure was more than 20 years ago, and of course, many adventures have followed since, but as a teenager, this was an important experience.
Through the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, I went to Canada for a year. Rotary assigned me three host families, and I went to a high school there. Every four months I changed families within the same town and all three families were very different. I also attended the weekly Rotary meetings of the club that had hosted me, which introduced me to Rotary. Many activities were organized for the exchange students during the year. The year ended in a month-long bus trip across Canada with nearly 100 other exchange students from around the world.
It was a time when we didn’t have mobile phones, a time before digital photos, Facebook, Instagram, and the like. But we did have email and fax, in addition to writing letters and calling home. As an insecure teenager at the time, I became more independent and more confident. Being a foreign exchange student made it a very special year for me, and I made friends from all over the world. Of course, I also got to know about different cultures and I learned to speak another language. It took me about half a year before I got to know my way around the school, in town, and the people around me. Looking back, as a teenager I was mainly concerned with having a lot of fun. Now, I would have spent much more time getting to know my host families and their culture.
At the end of my exchange, my Rotary Club counsellor asked me how I felt about going back home, and I had mixed feelings about it. It was a fantastic year, but it was time to go and get on with life and study. Going back home was also a culture shock: nothing had changed, but I, myself had changed and had many stories and memories.
So here is my plea for the exchange program and how important it can be for young people. Even though it’s been quite a long time and life goes on, at this time of the year and seeing the question on the teabag, I go back to that time. A time when the only responsibility I had was having a lot of fun and experiences. When I hear a song from that year, this sometimes happens. So, are you feeling a bit nostalgic like me, and would you like to know a song that reflected the year for me and was important to me and other exchange students? Then I refer you to this Greenday song. Wishing you all a good holiday! 🙂
Member of Rotary Club Utrecht International