An Intergenerational Exchange Journey

Traversing three international and domestic airports from Rotorua, New Zealand to Canberra, Australia as a solo traveller, our daughter Madeleine arrived home and had minutes to prepare for her next task: a set of three Rotary International Youth Exchange selection interviews. I can now report, after months of preparation, that Maddie has now been advised that her application has been successful and she will be following her father’s legacy as a Rotary International Exchange Student and spending 12 months abroad in her chosen country, Germany!

Facebook Status Update – 7 July 2013.

logoThere was much anticipation and expectation; my daughter felt confident that she had performed well after presenting herself to the Rotary Youth Exchange committee members at the District selection interviews. She was well prepared and had spent months conducting her own research into the Rotary Youth Exchange program, Rotary International and determining the best way to express herself to the committee in order to convince them that she would be a worthy youth ambassador for the Rotary Youth Exchange program and Australia. She had sourced a Sponsor Rotary Club who agreed to sponsor her after interviewing her and determining that she would be a suitable applicant. She then began attending her Rotary Club’s weekly meetings and sought assistance from members of her Club to help her to prepare; in their own time the club members set aside an hour or so each week to meet with my daughter and discuss possible interview scenarios and how to successfully meet the program’s selection criteria.

At the conclusion of the selection interviews, Madeleine was almost bouncing out of the building where the interviews were held. She sounded so confident and pleased with her performance that the discussion in the car on the way home centred around the required attendance at the second Briefing (Rotary Youth Exchange’s preparation weekends for the ‘outbounders’) and her cousin’s wedding, which had been scheduled on the same weekend.

Madeleine received the much-anticipated phone call from a committee member the next day; a decision had been made and she had been selected as a Rotary Youth Exchange student! In addition, she had been granted her first choice of five countries which she had been required to nominate: Germany!

Not only had Madeleine achieved her aim, she had returned a day early from a school trip to New Zealand and successfully negotiated several international airports alone in order to attend the selection interviews on the same day. It was an achievement in itself and it positively reinforced how capable she was of meeting the program’s criteria.

In my mind, Madeleine’s Rotary Youth Exchange journey began not in 2013, but long before she was born; 25 years ago, when I was selected as Rotary Exchange Student in 1988. Conversely, one’s Exchange journey doesn’t end at the conclusion of the exchange year; it’s a life long journey of ongoing relationships and friendships and a second ‘home’, on the other side of the globe, where several sets of families reside and bonds were formed. Over time the bonds may wain but they remain as significant markers in one’s life journey. The reality is, only the (current and ex) student exchange community ‘get this’. For others, those who haven’t experienced this journey, their eyes may glaze over, lost without a real understanding of the experience stemming from this journey.

I stumbled upon a fellow blogger recently who perfectly encapsulated the Rotary Youth Exchange journey in a blog post. She spoke about providing some advice to an exchange student who had recently returned home from a year as an Exchange student and provided some words of wisdom:

Welcome to life with pieces missing. We just go on. We find others with missing pieces and we hold each other as we celebrate what we have known.

I too have had to ‘go on’ with missing pieces. I couldn’t have encapsulated it better.

7 thoughts on “An Intergenerational Exchange Journey

  1. “We each leave pieces of our heart behind in these places that become our second homes, and we never get them back,” as Shawn wrote, is also the experience of many of us who have never been exchange students. For me, it sometimes feels as if there are more holes in life than there are solid bits. But the solid bits are still there, just scattered over a whole world. A fragmented life, the curse and the joy of the expatriate. The burden of feeling homesick and the joy of feeling at home at one and the same time.

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    1. Perhaps there are a couple of commonalities between exchange students and the expatriate community David. On the other hand, the experiences are quite different. Exchange students are required to immerse themselves into their adopted country and integrate themselves with several host families whom they’ve never met before in short space of time. Over the course of the year they find that they ‘belong’ until suddenly they’re required to return home, not knowing if they’ll ever return. And for many exchange students they will never be the same again.

      Shawn wrote in another blog post of hers:

      Now the crushing truth becomes clear. You are leaving people you love behind, and you may never see them again. The pain is engulfing. Your heart is about to be torn in half, and left behind in your exchange country. When your heart is left behind, the exchange was everything it was supposed to be.

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  2. Thank you for quoting me in your post, and thereby introducing yourself and Madeleine. My own daughter went to Barcelona, Spain 23 years after I returned from my own exchange year in Finland. It was strange being on the other side of the adventure, waiting at home for letters and phone calls. My quote for that year was “A ship in the harbour is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.” (John Augustus Shedd). She came home with pieces missing, too. So many decades later, those holes are still there, but the connections are every bit as precious now.

    I hope Madeleine cherishes her memories and is empowered by her experience, even as life evolves with missing pieces.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment Shawn. I’m delighted you took the time to acknowledge my ping back.

      I too spent 12 months in Finland as a Rotary Youth Exchange student (in 1989/90) and it remains a second home, although I’ve only returned once since my exchange. Therefore, as you say those holes remain and I’ve no doubt Madeleine will experience very similar emotions on her return from her exchange in 2015.

      I too will be eagerly awaiting each of Madeleine’s blog posts, emails and calls throughout the year! Shortly we’ll be pushing her out and away from her ‘safe harbour’ of home!

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