Rotary Youth Exchange Program discussed

CROWLEY – A partnership between the Rotary Clubs of Rayne and Crowley that will have positive effects on the students of Acadia Parish could be on the horizon.

Filling in at the last minute, Natasha Domagalski spoke at Tuesday’s Rotary Club of Crowley meeting about the Youth Exchange Program of Rotary International that provides many students each year with the chance for “the most amazing year” of their lives.

Domagalski, secretary of the Rotary Club of Rayne, has been involved in the program for several years and is excited to see the now two-year-old Rayne club embrace the program.

What Domagalski refers to as “hands-down the best youth exchange program,” the Rotary International Youth Exchange is a cultural exchange, not an educational exchange. Students between the ages of 15 to 18.5 years old by the time of departure are eligible. Those who will have already graduated high school but still meet the age requirement are still eligible. In fact, as Domagalski explained Tuesday, a lot of the exchange students fit into this category. She says that the student, though he or she has already graduated, does attend high school abroad as a senior. The same occurs for in-bound students who fit the criteria.

Domagalski explained the club has already begun the interview process, which involves interviewing the prospective student and the family of the student. The student’s family must be 100 percent on board with the student’s becoming part of the program should he or she be accepted.

The Rotary Club of Rayne is offering the program to Rayne High School, but is hoping to branch out and partner with the Crowley club and offer the program to Crowley High and Notre Dame students as well.

The prospective student, according to Domagalski, is usually in the top 25 percent of his or her class, he or she thinks of the larger outside world, he or she is grounded with a good head on his or her shoulders and he or she has some understanding of the broad world that is out there.

She explained that the student may leave at the age of 15 or 16, but returns with the maturity of a 25-year-old, and that may take a little bit of time for the family to adjust to.

Still, the broader understanding of the world gained over the 11 months traveled helps the child understand the world, and he or she learns a new language through immersion.

And while the focus is on culture exchange and public diplomacy, it is usually the case that the education the child receives abroad is transferable back home, but as this program is relatively new to the area, it will be more of a wait-and-see, student-school issue to be settled.

The chosen students must agree to be well-behaved not only by normal rules, but as well as the rules of the country he or she is leaving for and Rotary’s four-D’s of the program–no dating, no driving, no drinking and no drugs. He or she is also agreeing to a three-year commitment upon selection. The first year is the selection and training of the student(s), the second is the actual 11 months abroad and the third year is where the student helps the Rotary Club select and train the next group of students.

The Rotary Club also helps with in-bound students by helping them deal with culture shock and with a monthly stipend. The culture shock usually occurs after the “honeymoon” phase and around the holidays when those surrounding the exchange student begin to return to their normal lives.

For now Domagalski and the Rayne club are focusing on student interviews, but she also explained to the Crowley club that host families will also be needed.

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