Saturday, September 24, 2011

Student exchange programs offer Metro teens a chance to live and go to school in a foreign country

Imagine being transported to a foreign country where you don't know the language or the culture, where you don't have any friends and are living in a home with total strangers.That's the adventure students embark upon when they participate in a youth exchange to another country.The most challenging thing about my experience is the language,says Bradley Nason, a 2011 Bernice MacNaughton graduate who is on a Rotary Youth Exchange.

I came to Denmark not being able to speak Danish and it is difficult to understand what is going on sometimes. Luckily they speak English in Denmark as well, so I can communicate with most of the people here.Brad is one of the few students from Metro selected each year to take part in a student exchange, mostly through the Rotary Youth Exchange. The program is open to young people ages 15-25 worldwide. There are two basic types of exchanges: short-term and long term.The short-term exchange is for students aged 15-19 and can be several days to several weeks long. These exchanges don't involve attending high school, but students can tailor their experience to match their interests and can include home stays, tours and youth camps.

Another short-term exchange is for youth aged 18-25 and is ideal for recent secondary school graduates. These exchanges last three to six weeks and can include home stays, tours, camps or internships.The long-term exchange is for students aged 15-19 and involves living with a few host families and attending a local school. This exchange is for one year.Brad is one month into his exchange and he is glad he took advantage of the opportunity.What I enjoy most about my exchange is meeting new people and experiencing new things in a different country.The best memory of my exchange so far has been the first day of school. I just remember never feeling so nervous before in my life and the great experience I had in meeting all of the students in my classes in school.Although it's still early in his exchange experience, Brad has learned some significant lessons already.

The most important thing I've learned about my exchange so far are the similarities and differences we have as people. I never really thought of how - no matter where you are from in the world we all have the same fears, problems, joys and what-have-you as human beings.There are also approximately 60 international students who are currently on exchange in Metro Moncton high schools who undoubtedly feel the same.Most recently, our visiting international students are from Colombia, China, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Spain, Norway, France, Belgium and Mexico," says Diane Ross, an English as an additional language (EAL) mentor for School District 2.For 28 years, Diane taught various grades from kindergarten to Grade 10, teaching mostly French as a second language, English language arts and English as an additional language. She has been seconded to District 2 as the EAL mentor to support and coach teachers who work with students whose first language is not English.

Diane says Rotary International has specific criteria for selecting both incoming and outgoing exchange students.For our visiting international students, each agency has specific criteria; but students are obliged to attend classes, live with a host-family and participate in school, family and community activities.They are 'ambassadors' from their home country, so they need to behave in a way that best represents their countries.The visiting international students stay with host families across Metro Moncton.Local representatives for the educational agencies screen and select host families. Many of these families have done this for years and love the experience that it brings to their own homes and children.There are also benefits to the local students who have visiting international students in their classrooms.

They gain cultural enrichment, new perspectives, language enrichment and realizing that the world is not really that large and we all have so much in common. As a teacher, I found the presence of visiting international students and new Canadians in my classroom to be so enriching for our New Brunswick population.Diane says some personalities are better suited to exchange opportunities.I would think it would be helpful to be confident, a good communicator, flexible, respectful and perhaps brave and courageous, too.Diane notes that Metro Moncton schools also have a growing population of new Canadian students - those who come from overseas to stay in Canada.These students face similar challenges as our visiting students, but the stakes are higher because they want to stay in Canada and often plan to attend post-secondary education here as well. Their families make huge sacrifices sometimes to see that their children receive this opportunity.Students can also get a lot of exposure while studying in such universities and different course.

She adds that the ambassador program at BMHS has been very helpful and successful in supporting new international students at the school. It's an enriching experience for both groups and I think some of our ambassadors may consider doing a year abroad as a result of their experiences with visiting students in Moncton.Brad has some advice for those who are thinking about applying for an exchange experience.Just go for it. You only get one chance in your life to do this sort of thing and if you have any interest in doing something like this, just do it. Being an exchange student is one of the hardest, funniest, scariest and most memorable experiences in my life, but my life would be a lot different if I weren't one.

Frequently asked questions about the Rotary Youth Exchange Program:

* What are my responsibilities?
As a Youth Exchange student, you agree to:
* Act as an ambassador for your home country
* Abide by all program rules of your host Rotary club and district
* Accept the supervision of the host family, club, and district
* Ask questions of your host family and local Rotarians
* Be an active participant in your exchange
* How do I qualify?
* Be an above-average student or young professional with demonstrated leadership in the community
* Be open to new experiences and cultural differences
* Be sponsored by a local Rotary club
* Complete a written application and in-person interview
* How much will it cost?
Youth Exchange is coordinated at the regional level by Rotary districts and at the local level by Rotary clubs. Costs vary greatly from one area to another. Typically, participants and their parents cover the following expenses:
* Round-trip airfare
* Health and accident insurance
* Travel documents
* Clothing and other necessities
* Spending money
* Emergency funds for unpredicted expenses
* Ancillary travel and tours
In most clubs and districts, participants do not pay placement fees, so those with financial constraints can share the exchange experience.
Sharing in the costs are host families (who pay for room and board), the host community (who cover school tuition and arrangements) and host Rotary club (who offer a small stipend of usually US$50-100 monthly.)
* Where will my exchange be?
Exchanges can take place in more than 150 countries and geographical areas. Please note, however, that the countries you visit depend on your home Rotary district. Contact your local club or district for more information.
* How do I host a Rotary Youth Exchange student?
By hosting a Youth Exchange student in your home, you'll make a young person's dream come true, and you and your family will share an unforgettable and fulfilling experience.
As a host family, you will:
* Provide room and board
* Supervise the student just as you would your own children
* Involve the student in family activities and chores
* Enrich the exchange experience by including the student in family, community, and cultural activities
Host families aren't compensated financially. The program is run entirely by dedicated volunteers, which helps keep costs low.

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