What it’s like to...
Host two generations of Youth Exchange students
Governor, District 7150
Rotary Club of Sauquoit, New York
In 1988, a 15-year-old Rotary Youth Exchange student from India named Anant Agrawal arrived in District 7150 in central New York. His first host family had a construction project going on in their home when he arrived, so he stayed with our family for about six weeks.
We had just added two bedrooms to our house, and Anant helped us paint. He was thrilled to be able to help us finish those rooms. He did well in school, he worked on Rotary projects, and then he went home. There wasn’t any social media or email then, and although we had become close, we lost contact after that. We were raising our family. He went home to go to college, and he eventually married and started his own family.
We’ve hosted students in our home from Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands. We always love learning about the students’ culture and seeing them mature while they are here. For many of these students, it’s the first time they’ve been away from their family for an extended period. It’s amazing to watch them grow as the year progresses. For the host family, it’s a wonderful opportunity to expand your worldview and, in effect, to adopt a child into your home for three or four months.
Not every exchange is perfect. You have to understand that the kids will experience some homesickness and know how to work through it with them. The host family has to work at it; the student has to work at it. But in general, host families find that they make a connection if they see the student not as a guest, but as a member of their family.
From 1989 until 2006, we weren’t in touch with Anant. Then District 3060, which includes part of the state of Gujarat, sent two students to District 7150. We asked the students if they knew Anant. One of them remembered that after speaking at a club, he talked to a man who told him: “I’m really excited for you. I was in central New York about 18 years ago. The winters are very cold, but the people are very warm. You’re going to have a wonderful year.”
Sure enough, that was our Anant. We reconnected, and in 2011 he, his wife, and their two children traveled to the United States and came to stay at our home for a week. They visited the high school he had gone to. It was wonderful. Then in 2014, we went to India for his cousin’s wedding. We got to spend about nine days there.
Anant’s son was a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Brazil, and his daughter, Aarohi, applied as well. In the fall of 2018, the Sauquoit Rotary Club, our home club, hosted her. She stayed with us in the same bedroom her father had helped us paint 30 years earlier. She was in a play at school, and she took Advanced Placement courses. She graduated with about 80 other seniors in her class. Then she went back to India. As hard as it was to watch her go, we knew we’d see her again.
When we talk to potential host families, we tell them the greatest thing about Rotary Youth Exchange: If you agree to host a student from a foreign country for several months in your home, you will host them in your heart for the rest of your lives.
As told to Frank Bures
Rotary Youth Exchange has been expanding horizons since 1975. Learn how you can get involved in the program >
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• Illustration by Sébastien Thibault
• This story originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.