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  • Paul Van Nest


The Rotary Club of Kingston started hosting exchange students in 1983. These students not only served as ambassadors for their host countries but also continued their high school studies in the midst of a full social life, living with host families. Our first inbound student was Marija Tallus from Finland; our first outbound student was Sherri Agnew, now a Rotarian in our club. She lived and studied in Sweden in 1986-87. Since then, we have sent students from Kingston to another country for 37 years and counting, and we have hosted a total of 43 students from 21 different countries. The other Rotary clubs in Kingston have also hosted and supported students over many years.

Rotary Youth Exchange is the best administered and lowest cost international youth exchange program in the world, allowing over 8,000 students to exchange annually to around 60 different countries.

Maria Arvidson (Sweden), Sophie Cargoet (France) outside Alan Grant’s home – host family

Students between 16 and 18 years of age are selected by a sponsoring Rotary club; Rotary Districts world-wide then seek matches as best they can to accommodate the student’s preferred destination. Clubs who host (receive an inbound) are thereby qualified to select an outbound.

Students are hosted for about 10 months over an academic year from late August until early July. Clubs find host families to take the incoming student into their homes, each for about three months at a time.

A Youth Exchange student will be enrolled in a local secondary school for the year where they take classes, join teams and clubs, and meet new friends, all while, in many cases, learning a new language. There are regular district events where all the exchange students spend some time together, often a weekend. In this way, they make lasting friendships all over the world. Most hosts, either Rotarians or Friends of Rotary, also ensure that the students experience the culture and sights. In our case, inbound Exchange Students will visit Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Niagara Falls; they’ll spend a weekend at a cottage, go to hockey games, and check out local events. Whatever!

Exchange students often attend our weekly Rotary meetings and participate in our fundraisers and social activities. Towards the end of their stay, they give a presentation to our club to describe their lives before and during their exchange. Their impressions are fun and often emotional. These presentations confirm the importance and the opportunities of Rotary Youth Exchanges.

In 2019-2020, the Kingston club hosted Isabelle Moldrup from Denmark who attended Bayridge S.S.; Edouard Drollinger from Switzerland was co-hosted by the Kingston and Waterfront Rotary Clubs and attended Lasalle S.S. Matthew Brown, a student from Bayridge S.S., was on exchange in Switzerland but, when COVID-19 impacted the world, all exchange students associated with our district were ordered home in March. This proved devastating for these students in the midst of the best year of their lives.

Youth Exchange does not end the year that students return home. International friendships are maintained and many return years later as adults to visit with host families and clubs. These lifelong connections are priceless and truly confirm how this program helps “change the world, one student at a time.”

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