Rotary Youth Exchange: Your passport to adventure
Youth Exchange students often say their experience abroad was the best time of their lives. Being part of the program can be life-changing for Rotary members as well
For more than 40 years, Rotary Youth Exchange has been one of Rotary’s best-known programs. As an official program, it dates to 1975 — but by that time, Rotary clubs had already been sending students abroad for decades with the aim of promoting international understanding and friendship.
Impact of COVID-19
Although the COVID-19 pandemic postponed some exchanges, the ethos of Rotary Youth Exchange remains strong. While all new long-term exchanges will resume at a later date, some districts have been allowed to continue exchanges with strict safety guidelines and program modifications during the 2020-21 Rotary year. Read our interview with RI Director Tony Black about the measures Rotary is taking to keep youth exchange students safe.
What the program offers to and asks of participants — an openness to new ideas and experiences, a willingness to adapt and to gain new perspectives, and an opportunity to make new friends and learn new ways of living — are the same values that define Rotary itself.
“The major goal of Youth Exchange is to dive into another culture,” says Rotary President Holger Knaack, who served as chair of the German Multi-District Youth Exchange; he and his wife, Susanne, have themselves hosted dozens of students. “Youth Exchange is an opportunity for the kids to experience something new. And it has enriched our own lives.”
The following stories reveal how Rotary Youth Exchange continues to change lives.
The intercultural entrepreneur
Tim Pfrogner took part in a water filter project in the Dominican Republic during his Rotary Youth Exchange. The experience altered his career trajectory.
The globe-trotting journalist
Isabelle Roughol’s Youth Exchange to New Jersey launched her on a global life and global career.
The pandemic responder
Lorelei Higgins’ youth exchange taught her to be adaptable and flexible, skills she is using as an employee of the City of Calgary, redirecting restaurant food to those in need during the pandemic.
The enthusiastic host family
Melody and Paul St. John almost didn’t host Youth Exchange students because they had no kids of their own. But their first experience clicked, and they’ve hosted students for more than two decades since.
The leadership adviser
Being part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program has given Brazilian Rotarian Claudia Taha a new purpose and fulfillment, revitalizing her commitment to Rotary.
Diary of an exchange year
Lore Soria traveled from Ambato, Ecuador, to Ogallala, Nebraska, as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in 2002-03. She shares highlights from her exchange year.
“A friend of mine was making a TV show about foreigners who travel the Korean countryside. He asked me to appear, because I was this young Belgian guy who could speak Korean. The show aired after I returned to Belgium, and it was a crazy success. The producer called me and said, ‘You have to come back.’ I was just 18 and was supposed to go to university, but suddenly I had a chance to go back to a country I loved and be on TV. My parents were very supportive. They said, ‘Of course you have to do this. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.’”
— Julian Quintart, Belgium to Korea, 2004-05
Now: Korean TV personality
“That year in Osaka shaped my life. It gave me an incredible foundation and the courage to travel the world and spread my wings.”
— Antoni Slodkowski, Poland to Japan, 2003-04
Now: Reuters news correspondent in Japan and Pulitzer Prize winner
On his first audition, Joel Jackson told himself: “I’ve just got to do what I did in Brazil: jump in and trust that I’ll be able to handle myself.”
— Joel Jackson, Australia to Brazil, 2009
Now: Award-winning TV and film actor in Australia, best known for his roles as Charles Bean in Deadline Gallipoli and Peter Allen in Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door
While on exchange, Rebel Wilson contracted malaria. “When I was in the hospital in intensive care, I had this hallucination that I was an actress and that I was really, really good, and that I won an Oscar.” That fever-induced moment inspired her to change her career path to acting.
— Rebel Wilson, Australia to South Africa, 1998
Now: Hollywood actress, writer, comedian, producer
“My relationship with Rotary began as a Rotary Youth Exchange student and continued as a member of a Group Study Exchange team. Later as a Rotary Peace Fellow, I began a process of learning about leadership that will continue throughout my life.”
— Anabella Palacios, Argentina to Turkey, 1998-99
Now: Urban planner who sailed to Antarctica with 89 other women from 26 countries to highlight the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape our planet
“Before studying abroad, Japan was the world standard for me. People in Mexico and Japan have very different social skills, different ways of thinking about time, different ways of living, and I keenly realized the world is huge. Through studying abroad, I came to believe that Japan is only a part of the world.”
— Hideyuki Fujita, Japan to Mexico, 2001-02
Now: Uses his language skills as a marketing and sales specialist for Mexico and Latin America for Nippon Express
“My true education began in Thailand, and, in many ways, I consider it the country of my birth.”
— Karen Connelly, Canada to Thailand, 1986-87
Now: Author, professor, and trauma therapist. Her first book, Touch the Dragon: A Thai Journal, a bestseller, detailed her time spent on exchange in Thailand.
A look back at the history of
Rotary Youth Exchange
A Rotarian in France writes to Rotary International and proposes an international youth exchange between Rotarians with children.
The March issue of The Rotarian magazine reports on a youth exchange proposed by clubs in Belgium, Denmark, Italy, and Switzerland.
District 107 (formerly Southern California) sets up an exchange with districts in Latin America.
European exchanges resume after World War II ends.
A youth exchange conference in Switzerland generates worldwide interest in the program.
Rotary’s Board of Directors conducts a survey of youth exchange activities being operated by clubs and districts worldwide.
Rotary Youth Exchange is officially recognized as an activity of Rotary International after being formally adopted at the 1974 Council on Legislation. The decision designates Youth Exchange as a program to be administered at the regional level by Rotary districts and at the local level by Rotary clubs. The program continues to operate this way today and is active in 128 countries and geographical areas. About 9,000 students participate each year.
Did you know?
of exchanges in 2018-19 lasted a full academic year
of Rotary districts are certified to participate in Rotary Youth Exchange but only 16% of clubs send or host students
Rotary clubs participate in Rotary Youth Exchange