Let me tell you all about my life-changing experience as a Rotary Exchange Student.This is quite a long story that might have to be told in several episodes!
It all started when at 14, I decided to go to a boarding school instead of staying in the comfy but not so exciting local high school. I was a shy, but curious teenage girl, who wanted some novelty, and I was not disappointed! I was having a blast in this new lifestyle, sharing a lot of fun times with my classmates, with whom I was spending almost all my time!
One day, I don’t remember the exact circumstances, a friend of my parents told me about the “Rotary youth Exchange Program”, and about a scholarship that would be given away to a student of the area. He thought that I should apply. And without any further thought, I started the application with the help and support of my family (I even think that they encouraged me and pushed me to do it, as I started to get cold feet…). So I applied. After a couple of months, I went to the local Rotary meeting to realize that I was the only applicant… so, it meant that I was accepted! oups… I had secretly believed that someone else would get the scholarship and that I could stay home… well, probably my life would be completely different today had I not jumped and seized this amazing opportunity.
So here I am, at 16, February or March 2002, telling all my friends and teachers, that I am going to the US as an Exchange Student. Everyone is a bit surprised, “you? the shy girl that doesn’t even dare talking to some of your classmates??”. Not to mention that at this point my English was very very rudimentary… “Hello my name is Camille, Bryan is in the Kitchen?”. But hey, now that I was accepted, I was not going to step back. So I went on preparing my new adventure.
Long story short, end of July arrives and I have to say bye to my family and friends… tougher than I had imagined. Had to wake up (hmmm did I even sleep?) at 4am to be on time for my 7am flight from Bordeaux to Paris-Chicago-Akron… Did I mention it my my first time flying ever??? Well it was, all by myself, 3 flights in the next 24 hours, alone… What a dreadful feeling… But apparently I survived! Landing in Chicago was a bit of an adventure as there was a huge storm, so a lot of turbulence, 2 hours delay, a potentially missed connection… Oxygen for the young lady… Indeed missed the connection, a very friendly German girl saw all my distress and lent me her telephone card (Oh yeah, that was before the Smart Phone Era, no whatsapp…) to let my host family know that I would take the next flight to Akron… And how I wished I could talk to my mom… but no, the phone didn’t let me… It would have to wait some more… What a memorable day… When I finally landed in Akron/Canton airport, Bob and Bobby my host dad and host brother were here to welcome me, it was about 2 am, I hadn’t rested for at least 24 hours, and they started asking me a million of questions… the only thing I could do was smile and wonder… what the hell am I doing here… Funny enough, they didn’t mind my very laconic replies, mainly composed of “hmhm”, “yes” or “ok”… As I basically had no clue what they were telling me… I still clearly remember Bob trying to be a tourist guide and showing me the Football hall of fame, or something like that, and talking to me all the way to my new home. What a relief to be able to talk to my family when I got there and to finally rest… The next few days/ weeks would bring their lot of stress and anxiety as well as marvel and amazement!
Learn more about becoming a Rotary youth Exchange student (I will not get anything from you clicking that link! I just want to share my experience!):