Culture and communication focus of Youth Exchange meeting
A former Youth Exchange student speaks at a preconvention meeting in Los Angeles. Rotary Images/Monika Lee
One doesn’t forget a Rotary Youth Exchange experience. From 12 to 14 June, the program’s officers met in Los Angeles at a preconvention meeting to discuss topics including communication, preparation, recruitment, and memorable life lessons learned from the program.
"After PolioPlus, Youth Exchange is probably one of the best known programs Rotary is associated with," RI President Wilfrid J. Wilkinson told the group. "This is a wonderful, impressive, and very important program. It brings young people into the world of Rotary service," Wilkinson said, noting that he and his wife, Joan, have hosted seven Youth Exchange students.
During the meeting, participants heard from former exchange students as well as fellow program officers. Humorous skits highlighted some of the things that can go wrong when people from different cultures try to communicate, and small group discussions looked at ways to avert some of those misunderstandings.
Youth Exchange Committee Chair Dennis White spoke about the need to train program officers to understand and anticipate cultural differences in their interactions, not just with students but also with each other.
Julia Soper, a student at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, USA, who spent last year in Siberia, talked about what she learned on her exchange.
"One of my favorite things to do in Russia was to go visit friends, or one of my previous host families," she said. "The most important lesson was how important relationships are."
Terri Sawyer, Youth Exchange officer for District 5420 (Utah, USA), was a Youth Exchange student to Brazil 16 years ago. She spoke about how Rotary clubs and districts can find past exchange students and keep them involved.
"They can be Interactors, Rotaractors, and if they’re old enough, Rotarians," she said. "They have skills and contacts. They are gold mines of information and knowledge, and they're so eager to help."
Sawyer listed a few "old school" ways to locate former students, including:
- Contacting past Youth Exchange officers
- Writing to former students’ parents
- Resourcing through clubs
Some "high-tech" methods include:
- Yahoo Groups
But most of all, she said, it's important for clubs to get involved in the program and find good students.
"I am the first in my family to get a college degree," Sawyer said. "Brazil is my second home. Please get out there and recruit -- there are many more like me."
The materials used at the meeting can be downloaded at www.yeoresources.org.