On Tuesday, June 6, 2023, at a regular Rotary meeting, two high school exchange students spoke to the club members. The student from Brazil is completing her year here, and the other student is planning a year trip to Argentina this coming school year, starting in August.
Rotary Club Exchange Committee Chair Mark Wright commented that about 8,000 high school students will be spending a year in another country through this Rotary International Youth Exchange Program. Rotary is located in 166 countries throughout the world. Mark commented that this is a life - changing program for teenagers. The student needs to be very brave to go to a strange land for a year on their own. Mark’s father was in the Rotary when he was growing up, and Mark spent a year in Germany with the program, which had a profoundly positive effect on his life.
Leticia Tavares is the exchange student from Brazil. She is 17 years old. She knew someone who did a student exchange, and became interested. She is a junior at Westfield High School and has been living in the Wright household for the 2022-2023 school year. Since the southern hemisphere has reversed seasons from us, the academic year in Brazil goes from February to November, so she will be graduating from high school in Brazil this November. She hopes to apply to college in the United States and would prefer someplace warmer, such as Florida or California.
The main language in Brazil is Portuguese. Leticia said she had limited English skills when she first arrived, but has improved markedly. She feels that learning English will open a lot of doors for her. The United States was her first choice of countries, and she was delighted to be located just outside of New York City. Her host family has brought her into the city many times, and she has travelled to 6 states throughout the northeast, plus Washington, D.C., California and even spent a week in Hawaii.
When asked to say the best and worst things about America- she said that she really liked the high school system; the thing she did not like was the cold weather. Leticia had never seen snow, so the Wrights took her to Vermont and gave her ski lessons.
When Leticia first arrived, her English was not good, so she had trouble making friends. She also found that there are students from all over the world in Westfield, so being a foreign student was “nothing special”. Her best friend turned out to be someone from Bosnia. She is sad about leaving, but is grateful for the experience, and has made many friends.
Lois Wright, age 15, is the daughter of Mark Wright. She will be going to Argentina this coming school year. Lois is Bilingual- English and German- and hopes to become fluent in Spanish. Lois feels that Spanish is an important second language in the United States. Her hobbies are playing the viola, drawing, and horseback riding. Lois has been in contact with her host family and will be living in a town similar in size to Westfield, but more rural, so she may have the opportunity to do some horseback riding. The climate is similar to the climate here. There will be 78 exchange students in that Rotary District in Argentina, with three travel events to explore Argentina already scheduled for them.
Lois’ mother is very emotional about her going away for a year, and both of her parents are very supportive. Rotary discourages the parents to visit during the exchange year, (but they can send money.) Dealing with the high inflation rate of nearly 100% in Argentina could be a learning situation as well.