First in Series: Rotary’s Six Areas of Focus
Through our service projects, peace fellowships, and scholarships, our members are taking action to address the underlying causes of conflict, including poverty, inequality, ethnic tension, lack of access to education, and unequal distribution of resources.
One key piece of Promoting Peace is Youth Exchange.
In Youth Exchange, students learn a new language, discover another culture, and truly become global citizens. Exchanges for students ages 15-19 are sponsored by Rotary clubs in more than 100 countries.
Exchange students unlock their true potential to:
Rotary Youth Exchange: key to global citizenship
By Marie Tornquist, former Rotary Youth Exchange student
from Minnesota, USA, to Brazil
Marie TornquistOn the first day of my Rotary Youth Exchange orientation in a Minneapolis suburb, I remember being confused about the nationality of my country officer. She kept referring to herself as Brazilian, saying things like, “In Brazil we eat a lot of rice and beans,” and, “We (Brazilians) are very open people.” She also referred to her Brazilian host families as “my brother, Eduardo,” “my nieces and nephews,” etc. I wondered if she had somehow been placed with a host family that was a distant relative. After a while I realized that ever since her exchange, she has continued to identify with the Brazilian culture while at the same time living in the U.S. and maintaining her identity as an American. During the first three months of my exchange, I focused intensely on learning the language and everything I could about the culture of my new home. At the six-month mark, I was already beginning to dream in Portuguese. I had also gained a solid group of friends with whom I shared common interests and felt that I could talk to openly without being seen as “the American.” Having limited access to my native language and culture forced me to integrate into local society and rely on the people around me for support.
Us versus themWhile traveling as a tourist or even as a student on a traditional study abroad program, people tend to gravitate towards others of similar backgrounds or hold on to their habits and way of thinking. Unless you are fully immersed in your host culture with little contact with your native culture, you will always maintain an “us vs. them” mentality. I believe you can only become a global citizen when you start identifying yourself as one of “them.” Going on an exchange lends the perfect opportunity to break through nationalist barriers and truly walk in the shoes of someone from a culture you may have once thought foreign.
Marie Tornquist and her Brazilian classmates during her Rotary Youth Exchange.