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Rotary Exchange Program Opens Doors

By Staff | Jul 24, 2014

At a meeting of the Shepherdstown Rotary Club, Camille Thomsen, a 17-year-old high school student from Denmark reflected on her last 11 months spent learning and growing in the U.S., as a participant in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.

For Thomsen and other high school students interested in visiting a new country, the opportunity to step outside her comfort zone and leave home for nearly a year, proved both challenging and rewarding.

“I really liked it over here. Its been really great,” she said.

Thomsen shared some of the over 10,000 photos she took throughout the last year.

She visited New York City, Baltimore and Washington DC, took a tour of the west coast and had the opportunity to visit some family living nearby.

Thomsen spent time staying with for host families from the Eastern Panhandle and check in each week with the Shepherdstown Rotary Club through attendance at the regular meetings.

“They just gave me some possibilities I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t met them,” Thomsen said.

Paul Woods, past president of the club explained that the Rotary Clubs exchange program gives local and international student the opportunity to spend a year being educated in a new environment.

Broken down at district level, 30 students are sent out from the local district while, 30 international students come in.

Each student will spend about three years participating in the exchange overall.

The first year involves a series of “district,” events that students take part in while still at home. Exchange students set to embark on their year-long journeys come together throughout the first year to connect and build friendships.

During the third year, returning students participate in series of outreach events to help educate and prepare the next batch of exchange students.

“It’s a great exchange of ideas and learning experience for everybody,” Woods said of the program.

Students who participate receive a host Rotary club, which serves as a support system for students and their families back home.

“You know there’s a Rotary Club with other Rotarians just like you looking out for your kid,” Woods said.

The program itself is almost entirely volunteer-run making it one of the most affordable exchange programs for students and interested families, according to Woods.

“The Rotary program costs substantially less than other programs,” he said.

Thomsen said she’d encourage American kids to participate in programs like this, in order to broaden their perspective and open minds.

“It’s been a really amazing experience, I learned English and I learned a lot about myself,” she said.

Woods said the Rotary Club is always looking for students to participate in the program, as its been about 7 years, since the local chapter sent out students.

The program is open to local area high school students age of 15 to 18.

For more information visit the club web site at shepherdstownrotary.org/ or contact Woods at 240-432-1674.