Youth exchange experiences change lives
By Lori Ruhlman
They went to three different parts of the world and had very different experiences, but the three Skaneateles youth exchange students who returned to share their stories with the Rotary Club had much in common.
Sarah Euto, Gianna Eidel and Cole Goodchild each exuded confidence, joy and wisdom when talking about their new “second homes” of Austria, Japan and Taiwan.
The enthusiasm and joy they expressed seemed to come from the friendships they made that will last a lifetime. They were filled with love for people in their host countries and for the other exchange students they met from around the world.
The wisdom and confidence came from facing some of the most difficult challenges of their young lives, and surviving – even thriving.
Goodchild shared that being placed in a part of Taiwan where almost no one spoke English made his exchange very difficult.
And that challenge is what made his year so meaningful and important. With his second host family in particular, the living conditions were so humble that at first he didn’t know if he could remain.
There was no running water in the house.
Having a shower meant using a bucket. He had to wash his own clothes by hand – a process that took several hours each time.
But then he considered his eight year old brother, who was mature, healthy and self-sufficient. He decided he might learn lessons from this boy.
“I stayed. And I learned more than you can ever imagine from an eight year old boy,” he said in a voice nearly choked with respect and admiration.
Living with his second family, he said, “gave me the opportunity to experience Taiwanese life as a native, and forced me – or allowed me – to go outside my comfort zone.” (Rotary Youth Exchange students typically have three host families).
Euto experienced different hardships that caused her to grow while in Austria, she said.
After switching from one host family to another, she came to know an extended family that she will always know and love as her own. She skied in the Austrian Alps and traveled throughout Europe, visiting Vienna, Prague, Berlin and Venice.
A highlight, she said, was when her American family visited.
Laughing and talking with her host family and her American family during a big Easter dinner, she was overwhelmed.
“These are my two worlds colliding in the best of ways,” she said. “My heart was so full. I thought, ‘this is what Rotary Youth Exchange is about.”
Eidel said she decided to apply for Rotary after doing a research paper on “gap years” during her junior year in high school.
She was surprised her senior year when Rotary assigned her to Japan.
It hadn’t been one of her choices, or even on her radar. She had hoped for a placement in Switzerland, for example, she said.
“I wasn’t happy, but I knew later it would be good for me,” Eidel said.
Initially in Japan, she was “in major culture shock.”
As the year went on, and she extended herself in many ways, had rich experiences and bonded with friends and family.
She said she also “fell in love with their fashion.”
As a result, she reapplied to colleges (from Japan, with help from her American parents) and will head to FIT in the fall – a change in the course of her career and life.
“Japan wasn’t something I wanted,” she said, “but it was something I needed.”
All three of the students thanked Rotary for the priceless experiences and for the rich ways that Rotary will continue to shape their lives.
Rotarian Bill Conole thanked Gard Lorey, youth exchange officer for the Skaneateles Rotary Club, and other Rotarians who help make it possible for Skaneateles students to go abroad and for students from around the world to come and enrich the local schools and community. Skaneateles, he said, has been a flagship program for Rotary District 7130, which sends a total of 20-35 students from CNY abroad each year (and welcomes that many in return). Host families make it happen.
This August, Skaneateles will welcome a girl from Mexico and a boy from Switzerland. In exchange, Eva Lombardi will head to Taiwan and Shane Rutledge will go to Belguim. To be a host family, contact the local Rotary Club.