Youth Exchange creates lifelong bonds
Past RI Vice President Jerry Hall; his wife, Tasha; and Antonio Herrera spend time together at the RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada, in June. Photo courtesy of Jerry Hall
Antonio Herrera gets emotional every time he is reunited with Past RI Vice President Jerry Hall, his host for a Rotary Youth Exchange in 1980.
Herrera, then 16, came from Chile to stay with the Hall family in Reno, Nevada, USA. He says he will never forget how Hall spent a couple of hours every day after school helping him read books that his teacher had assigned.
"He would make me read the books back to him," Herrera says. "I couldn't believe his genuine interest in my learning the language. The values I learned from Jerry and his family were instrumental. They made me a part of their family, which is why it's always emotional when I see them again."
Herrera is now vice principal at a middle school in Syracuse, New York. In 2003, he became a member of the Rotary Club of Syracuse Sunrise. Although work obligations have forced him to take a temporary leave from his club, he says it's important for exchange students to stay involved with Rotary.
"Youth Exchange opened so many doors for me," Herrera says. "Learning another language helped me tremendously in being who I am today."
Hall says the experience is equally rewarding for host families.
"The magic part of Youth Exchange is that you learn from the student, and the student learns from you," says Hall, a member of the Rotary Club of Reno. "Even though we live in other parts of the world and have different cultures, there are so many things we have in common.
"Antonio was a very serious and studious young man," Hall adds. "He always asked the extra question. His curiosity to learn our culture was remarkable."
Hall has gone on to host 13 students since Herrera, and says each has enriched his life in ways that are hard to describe.
"Seeing students mature is always rewarding," he says. "Youth Exchange is an opportunity to make a real difference in a young person's life."
The most difficult part is when the student goes back home, Hall says. "It's like when a family member leaves home. The bond you forge with students is so strong."
Hall believes the most important part of Youth Exchange is communication.
"Host families must be sure to make their student comfortable," he says. "It's such a good program. It changes how people see each other. We have a lot to learn from other cultures if we take the time."
The bond between Hall and Herrera remains strong 30 years later. They see each other every few years, and most recently met up during the RI Convention in Montréal, Québec, Canada.