Rotary Youth Exchange produces enduring value
Rotarian Danielle Baltus (right) today, and back in 1963, when she embarked on a Rotary Youth Exchange from Belgium to New York City.
In 1963, 17-year-old Danielle Baltus boarded a ship bound for New York City to start her yearlong Rotary Youth Exchange.
The trip across the Atlantic took two weeks, and it took another two weeks for her first letter to make its way back home to Belgium. “A month went by before my parents even knew I had arrived safely,” she recalls. Baltus remembers her year in Mission, Texas, as an immersion in American culture. She became a Rotarian in 1999, when she joined the Rotary Club of Lessines, Belgium.
THE ROTARIAN: You’re still involved with Youth Exchange. What is your current role?
BALTUS: Internationally, I am one of the members of the RI Youth Exchange Committee. In Europe, I am the immediate past president of EEMA [Europe, Eastern Mediterranean, and Africa] Youth Exchange. In District 1620, I’m the New Generations chair. In districts 1620, 1630, and 2170, I’m the short-term exchange program coordinator. In my club, I’m a member of the New Generations committee.
TR: How is Youth Exchange different today, compared with 1963?
BALTUS: Society has changed so much. Parents didn’t – and couldn’t – interfere as they do now. And in those days, students were more inclined to adapt.
TR: Now it’s so much easier to keep in touch with parents and friends at home. Is that good or bad?
BALTUS: Students cannot integrate into their host country if they keep living at home through Facebook, Skype, and email. Each time there is a little problem, they can ask their parents for help. They keep in touch with their former schoolmates, and therefore have less time to make new friends.
TR: What is your best memory from your year abroad?
BALTUS: I have so many. I love who I have become thanks to that experience. Part of my heart is now American. I understand Americans better than other Europeans do because, as a student told me, “you are one of us.” My experience taught me tolerance, optimism, and a sense of peace. No student who has lived one year in a country will ever support fighting [against that country].
TR: Why do you think it’s important for youth to travel?
BALTUS: Traveling is not the right word. You can visit countries as a tourist; it will not change you or your life. It is living with the people that is important, because you learn how to understand them without judging them. It’s like washing two pieces of clothing together – both get a little color from the other one.
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