Thea - 1/20/2016

What led you to consider an exchange abroad?

From entering 7th grade, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. My school offered a cass called 'International Class' where we were taught about other countries and cultures and had young people from Bolivia and Cambodia visit us. It all sparked my interest from the outside world. Also, who wouldn't want to have an adventure in a different country?

Has your experience to date fulfilled your expectations of your exchange?

To be honest, my exchange year has not so far been as I imagined. My year has been so much different fro what I expected, but not in a bad way. I don't think anyone will be able to quite understand what it means to live in a different country and culture away from your family before you actually do it. Even though my year may have been different from my expectations, it was definitely met them plus some extra, and I'm having the most awesome
time of my life.

What has  this exchange meant to you?

For me, being an exchange student has changed me as a person. Being surrounded by new
people and new ideas and meeting people (and other exchange students) from around the world has made me able to live in a different perspective. I feel that I know more about myself and the world around me.

What have you learned about yourself while here?

That I am able a do much more than I though, I have learned my true capability. Not knowing anyone in a new culture and a language that I did not have a big knowledge of pushed me into situations where I at first wasn't quite comfortable but I learned to find ways to handle these difficult situations. A perk of being away from home is that no one has any expectations as to how you should be, so I got the chance reinvent myself and be exactly the person I want.

What have you gotten out of the exchange experience?

The most important thing I have gotten out of the experience is friends for life from all over the
world. Also, I got a bigger knowledge of the complex world around me and made language skills that
will definitely be benefit me in the future.

How has this exchange prepared you for the next chapter of your life?

My social and communication skills have developed a lot and it gets easier and easier to make
new friends and start conversations every day; a skill that will definitely be good to have later in life,
for this will not be the last time that I move to new places. We live in a world filled with conflicts and
being exposed to new ways of thinking and living, I am more ready to deal with conflicts and the
solving of those later in my life.

Would you recommend this exchange to another high school student?

If anyone I meet shows the slightest interest in being an exchange student, you will be sure to find
me talking their ears off, that's how much I want other people to have the chance of experiencing
something as amazing as I am. I will strongly recommend studying abroad. You will have
experiences and friends for life and I am sure that I speak on behalf of all exchange students when
I say that it is the best year of your life.
As the slogan goes, "It is not a year within in a life; it is a life within a year."

Melanie /JAPAN 2010.11

When I was fifteen, two girls came into my psychology class and talked about their yearlong exchange to France. That was the first time I heard of Rotary. Two years later, I did my exchange year in Nara, Japan. The orientation classes for travel abroad talked about culture shock and adapting to new environments. Those lessons were understatements.

I was overwhelmed by exotic food, a strange language, foreign architecture, and even stranger customs, all of which I quickly grew to love. At the time, my mind felt like it was on fire. My day to day life was so chaotic from the information overload, but it’s incredible to me how much I learned then. There is a nostalgia that comes about when I think of Japan. I recall friends and family who are still there and what I learned from them.

Rotary taught me how to adapt to unexpected circumstances from uncomfortable social interactions to international nuclear disasters. I learned all about the quintessentially Asiatic trait of the collective before the individual, and women’s roles in places other than America. I learned about faces and their importance in Japanese culture; I was professional with my teachers, my loud-mouthed brazen self with my Japanese friends, and the always smiling, introverted, and soft spoken young lady with the older gentlemen in Nara Rotary Club who, though traditional, could not have been outdone by anyone in their care of me. In lieu of interesting and amusing cultural exchange stories I have, I would rather like to elaborate on how the things I leaned through Rotary and my exchange helped me in my years to come.

When I returned early because of the 2011 nuclear disaster I was surprised to find out just how practical I had become. I enrolled into honors community college and volunteered with the Ronkonkoma Rotary Club. I had been a mediocre student prior to my exchange, but after a virtual year of living in Asia I knew more about proper work ethic than I thought possible. I graduated with a 3.9 honors GPA.

It’s been a year since then. I speak Japanese, Arabic, and English. I’ve resided in four foreign countries. I finished my first novel this year. I recently wed my childhood sweetheart of 6 years. I am a United States Marine, as is he. I am only twenty one years old.

I don’t find myself very impressive. I never accomplished these things by myself, but with the help of others. Through all the challenges I’ve faced, physical, emotional, and social, I know where I got the strength to persevere from, and it wasn’t the Marine Corps.

On Parris Island, South Carolina I spent 13 hellish weeks of boot camp learning customs and courtesies of the Marine Corps. I had already learned about alternate ways of life in Japan, so despite the discomfort, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected. I learned to shoot for the first time with the M-16A4 Service Rifle. If I spent exhausting weeks trying my hand at Naginata, a Japanese martial art similar to kendo, with my school mates, then this couldn’t be any more difficult. Shooting wasn’t nearly as labor intensive as keeping proper Naginata form and striking with perfect clarity of movement. On a good day, my team captain would tell me I managed one good strike per practice, yet I managed to shoot expert at Inchon range.

When they taught us to work as a team, I already knew when to follow and I knew when to lead. I had already done these things in different ways. My Drill Instructors talked about working towards a greater cause, to fight for the Marines to the left and right of you. It sounded exactly like Rotary’s service above self motto. Similarly The Marine Corp’s phrase ‘Semper Gumby’, a play off the traditional always faithful motto, showcases the importance of being always flexible. We were always hearing we needed to adapt and overcome. The Drill Instructors probably never knew that I had spent a year doing just that. I managed to graduate in the top 10% of my platoon.   

I fully believe my success this far was because of the opportunities I’ve had through Rotary. When I returned from Nara, it was only when I was speaking with a Japanese expatriate that I realized my accomplishment. I was amazed to think that I had actually completed something I set out to do three years prior. That year proved to me that I could succeed at everything I hoped to accomplish. Rotary gave me some great social tools for my box, and the self confidence to believe in myself, and I do.  

I am a United States Marine, and I’m very proud of that. But the ground work for my perseverance through the dirt, the fire ants, and the hours of rucking was laid years before my arrival at Parris Island, when I walked into that year long exchange orientation room. In fact, I joined the Marine Corps in order to serve my country as repayment for the opportunities I have been afforded through Rotary. I see the good in the world that Rotary does and I know it has helped me personally in tremendous ways.

I’m still the extroverted American girl that went aboard, but I now prefer chopsticks to forks. I have the ability to use my bi-culturalism and flexibility to perform in ways I wouldn’t otherwise know how. One day, when I have more to give, I will be a Rotarian too. For now, I’m going to work on finishing my schooling. Regardless of how things go for me here on out, I will never be afraid of the future or uncertainly because I learned how to deal with adversity. Rotary showed me that.


I had begun to consider an exchange abroad, because both my parents had done Rotary exchanges when they were about my age and they highly recommended it.  I also was very interested in becoming fluent in another language, experiencing a new culture, and making new friends who have different perspectives, outlooks, and lives than I was used to in my small hometown.   

To date, this experience has fulfilled and surpassed my initial expectations of exchange.  I knew going into this that I would learn a lot of new things, but I have been so pleasantly surprised by how much knowledge I have gained in my four months here, not only in terms of language and culture, but also about myself as well.  I have also made such close connections to people during my time abroad, which is such a unique and wonderful experience.  Your “host family” soon becomes your real family, and that is an irreplaceable gift that truly changes your life.  It has been so great to hear comments from my Spanish friends and family, saying that I can speak more fluently and communicate better since arriving.  Through my host family and friends I have also been able to learn more about a reality and culture that is different from mine, which is so fascinating and eye-opening.  Being away from the familiarity of my everyday routine back home really makes me think about myself and the world around me in a way that I otherwise wouldn't have done.  I am now proud to say that because of this, I have grown to become a more mature, aware, intelligent person who is learning to think outside of the box, face fears with courage, and tackle challenges with determination.

To me, this exchange has meant so many things.  I had many goals coming into it- I wanted to become fluent in Spanish, learn about a new culture, try lots of new foods, get out of my comfort zone, and meet new people.  Throughout my four months of exchange I have progressed in all of these things and more.  I think one of the funniest and weirdest parts of exchange is when you start to forget your English, which is happening to me now!  I need both a thesaurus and a dictionary to write this-one to remember vocabulary and the other to see how to spell things!  I am so grateful that I have been able to learn so much during my time abroad, thanks to Rotary.

I have learned a great deal about myself since being in Spain.  Exchange has helped me to come out of my shell and be more interactive. I have also learned to be more independent and do things for myself.  I have become more mature and aware of myself, others, and the world around me, and I have been working on improving things about myself that I don´t like.   Most importantly, throughout my time here I have “grown into myself,” I have discovered new interests, and I know what I stand for and believe in.  I have learned to make adequate decisions for myself, and I am overall just more confident in who I am.  Because of all of this I feel much more secure about my future in every aspect-college, work, relationships, etc.  I have learned the tools needed to overcome challenges and learn from mistakes.  I would 100% recommend this exchange!   

Some activities I have been apart of include after school clubs, town parties, sightseeing, Rotary trips, and vacations to the Pyranees and exchange friends´ houses. Megan/Spain 20115.16