NORMAN — “It was the best year of my life” and “Yes, I would do it again” are frequent statements from young adults who have participated in the Rotary Youth Exchange.
Everyone comes home changed from meeting the challenges and the successes of being an exchange student, said Jaci Williams, chair of the Rotary District 5770 student exchange program.
Derek Osborn spent his 2005-2006 exchange in Turkey.
“The flight was the hardest part — taking a 13-hour flight to a place I didn’t know, people I didn’t know, and a language I didn’t know,” Osborn said.
He was given a two-week crash course in the language. He felt that he finally picked up Turkish by immersion.
“My host father and host cousin holding a sign with my name on it met me at the airport. With that welcome, my year with my wonderful host family began. I went to school, but I spent as much time as I could exploring Istanbul and watching the people. There is so much history and such a rich past,” Osborn said.
Andy Marsh went to Grenoble, France, in 2001. He did not speak French but had studied Spanish and Latin in high school.
“Just moving around without the language was difficult. People were very helpful and friendly when I tried. I had to learn French. I still have a better understanding of spoken French than the written word,” he said
Marsh said he a had some trouble with English grammar when he first returned because he had spent a year structuring his thoughts and words in French grammar.
Alexander Brigham spent 2012-13 in Belgium. He said before his exchange, he was a shy kid.
“My exchange gave me the courage and self confidence to be myself and learn to live in my own skin,” he said.
“The Rotary Exchange offers students the opportunity to experience other cultures. They also share their own culture, a little bit of Oklahoma. Being a part of a family and community, along with attending high school for a year, gives the students a far different experience than just a superficial outside look at another culture, ” Williams said.