Did you know Rotary International is the longest running youth exchange program in the world? Since 1929, Rotary Clubs from around the world have sent 15- to 19-year-old students for both 30-day and 10-month exchange visits.

Rotary exchange students represent clubs from over 100 countries. Rotary districts and many clubs have certified Rotary Exchange officers whose task it is to help organize the trip abroad, open communications with the student’s local club and make sure that everything goes smoothly and safely. With a background check, local families, Rotarian and non-Rotarian alike, can host a student for up to three months. We always welcome community members that are interested in hosting.

The program benefits students, host families and oftentimes the local club. Students benefit through total immersion in a new language and culture. It is fun to watch the foreign exchange student’s language skills progress between their first visit to the host club and several months later. Inbound students coming to clubs in our country usually live with a host family for up to three months and attend the local high school.

Prior Lake-area students selected to go abroad are called outbound students. This year, Lindsey Czarnecki, a 10th-grade student from Belle Plaine High School, is our district’s outbound.

I had the pleasure of visiting with Lindsey and learning a little about why she chose the Rotary Exchange program. Speaking with Ms. Czarnecki, her enthusiasm and excitement about her upcoming year in Brazil are contagious. Lindsay speaks with a maturity and intelligence that belie her years. She is also a legacy exchange student, as her sister was an outbound to Korea her senior year.

Although Lindsay does not speak any Portuguese, she is learning and looks forward to mastering the language during her year abroad. She leaves mid- to late July. Lindsay feels the Rotary Exchange experience will broaden her worldview and help her prepare for a future career in social services.

Exchange students tell us that their experience helps them develop lifelong leadership skills, learn a new language and culture, build lasting friendships with young people from around the world and truly become a global citizen.

To learn more, go to rotary.org and northstaryouthexchange.com.

Harry Algyer lives in the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District with his wife and college-aged daughter. He is involved with a number of volunteer groups in and around the area and is a retired police chief.

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