Rotary Scholars on Travel, International Exchange, and Service
Rotary is an international service organization that has been sponsoring international exchanges since the 1940’s. The video above and the responses below are from Rotary scholars who are alumni of the Rotary High School Exchange (Shivaun and Ines), Ambassadorial Scholarship (Heather and Samantha), and Peace Fellowship (Chris). To learn more about Rotary and Rotary international exchanges, visit www.rotary.org.
Why were you interested in studying in another country?
Shivaun: Initially, when I signed up to be a youth ambassador with Rotary International, I didn’t know much about the rest of the World, but I knew I wanted to (part of me also didn’t want to be contained to my small Midwestern hometown anymore). After being placed in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, Mexico, for a year as a youth ambassador, I knew being interested in other cultures would always be an essential aspect of my life.
Chris: It had been almost 10 years since my first experiences studying abroad as an undergraduate. I was interested in having a graduate experience overseas, I wanted the challenge of a Masters degree in Spanish, and I was ready for a chance to step out of my comfort zone as a young professional.
Ines: I wanted to learn English and I thought it was the best way to do that. Also I wanted to learn a new culture and to see the world. I think it’s the best way to travel.
Heather: Since I was young I had wanted to travel and understand the world beyond my changing rural farming community in Northern California. While cleaning out boxes at my parents I came across a 3rd grade lined brown piece of paper with a drawing and essay entitled 2001… where will I be.. I predicted that in 2001 I will be traveling around the world in a hot air balloon in 366 days helping people help themselves. I was influenced by books and the Heffer project in my Sunday school class. Throughout high school, I met exchange students and people from other communities and cultures and I tried to convince my parents to let me study abroad, but there was no way.
What did you gain from your international experience?
Shivaun: I gained a broader perspective of the World, the United States, and myself. By being located outside of my comfort zone, I became more aware of who I was, and what was important to me. Most importantly, I became friends with some of the most wonderful people I know!
Chris: Even before I left, the Rotary World Peace Fellowship application challenged me to articulate my personal and professional goals. The MA program in International Relations provided me with a theoretical framework that contrasted with the areas of study I had pursued thus far, as well as professional contacts in Argentina and around the world. The Peace Fellowship concludes with a 3-month Applied Field Experience, which gave me even more professional contacts and a lot of practical experience.
Ines: I gained maturity from my international experience and the most important [thing] for me is that I have so many friends from everywhere! I have some in Taiwan, Germany, Belgium, Turkey, and best friends from France and Brazil and of course, American!
Heather: I gained a fluency in Spanish I didn’t have before, life long friends, and a deep understanding of the diverse communities of Argentina. Because I did not represent the California stereotype, I always looked beyond the Argentine ones and learned so much from people’s stories. I gained a lot of perspective and was able to work with youth growing up in cities.. etc.
What was the most difficult part about being an international exchange student?
Shivaun: The most difficult part was coming back to the United States. Going abroad changed my life, and it was hard to return to a place where people didn’t really understand my experience.
Chris: Being a graduate student abroad after having worked as a professional in the US was a totally different experience than my undergraduate study abroad experience, so setting expectations and goals accordingly was challenging at first.
Ines: The hardest thing about being an international exchange student is to be popular! Everybody knows you and you meet so many people so you are so busy all the time and you need to remember [everyone’s] names. Seriously, the hardest part is at the beginning when I couldn’t make friends because I couldn’t understand anything and I couldn’t speak in English. That was pretty hard but week by week it was better and after two months I could understand everything… and then after four months I was dreaming in English!
Heather: In the beginning it was little things like trying to find a place to live and get a bank account. However when I reflect back 15 years I realize that for me the hardest part was coming back…the re-entry! I was glad that in California I could speak Spanish.
How has that experience impacted your life today?
Shivaun: Being a youth ambassador in Mexico my senior year of high school molded my future life path. After high school, one of my main criteria for selecting a University was finding an institution with a decent study abroad program; I knew I wanted to go overseas again. In college I spent a semester in Spain and a semester in South Africa.
After college I interned with a study abroad company where I was able to help lead an alternative spring break trip to the Dominican Republic. At the start of my professional career as a teacher, I decided to spend the summer volunteering in the Philippines. Today, I just finished my Master’s degree in Intercultural Relations, teach English as a second language to young adults for all over the World, and have a strong desire to experience more cultures. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be the person I am today, if I hadn’t gone abroad as a Rotary student.
Chris: Both the theoretical and the practical parts of the Rotary Peace Fellowship helped me to connect the dots between International Education and the transnational international issues of peace and justice to which students are exposed when they study abroad. My time in Argentina was a chance to take a step back and think about my role as an international educator, and reiterated my decision to remain in this field. I also have a better understanding of Rotary International and am thankful to TRF for this opportunity, so I try to take any opportunity I can to encourage potential scholarship applicants to apply!
Ines: That experience had a huge impact on my life. I want a good life. I want a good future and I want to travel so I know that I need to do my best at school and I need to continue with my studies.
Heather: I met people who really cared about Argentine culture and were really critical of their community and their government and really aware of politics on a level that I felt most people in the US were not aware of. So, that sense of awareness of the world really impacted me and my own (awareness) grew. I met people who had traveled and worked in communities with young people…all of this impacted me. I returned to the US to work in youth leadership and participation.
What would you say to someone who is considering applying for an international scholarship?
Shivaun: Apply. Apply with 100 percent of yourself and your efforts. People want to financially help students go abroad who don’t have the means themselves to do so. If you show your genuine interest in going abroad, people will help you make it happen.
Chris: Do it! You can always gain something by taking a step back from your day-to-day life and living abroad for awhile. If you are planning to apply for a scholarship, start the process EARLY and really spend some time reflecting as you write your application essays.
Ines: Do it RIGHT NOW! It’s the best thing [that has happened] in my life andI wish I could still be there because I [had] the best moments.
Heather: Do your research. How will what you are going to do benefit others? After all why should someone pay for you to study abroad. And be patient and don’t give up easily. We dance in different and move in different rhythms, give yourself a chance to find the beat and mix it with your own. If a door is closed I am sure there is a window (or ask the neighbor they might have a spare key!).