It has now been over one week since our daughter Madeleine departed for Germany on her Rotary Youth Exchange. It has been a surreal experience; we’d been discussing our daughter’s (potential) exchange year abroad for almost a year. Firstly, with much speculation, while she was compiling her application and seeking sponsorship through her local Rotary Club, and in turn the selection process through the Rotary District’s Youth Exchange committee. Once she was selected, we gradually realised that in January 2014 our daughter would be leaving us to spend a year abroad in a country that she had never visited before, live with families whom she nor we had never met and experience life as a local member of a community, with its own language, schooling and culture.
Even though, as an ex-exchange student myself, I had an understanding of exactly what my daughter would be experiencing during her Rotary Youth Exchange, I had no prior awareness of the parent’s perspective.
Once we had bid our farewells at the International Terminal, said some final inspirational words to send her off with, we suddenly realised that she was now gone. Suddenly she had become an independent young woman who was required to face the world on her own and successfully navigate herself to her final destination.
This process was now completely out of our hands. We now had to put our complete faith in the Rotary Youth Exchange program and its many years of success as an exchange student program of choice, where hundreds of students from around the world leave their home countries to experience, in effect, a completely new life abroad.
In some ways it is a real test of our ability to trust that our daughter is wise and mature enough to make the program a success for herself. Fortunately, she has had several opportunities to show us that, in our minds, she has met the criteria after already experiencing several adventures abroad during 2013. This included negotiating her way home early from a school trip in New Zealand alone to attend the Rotary Youth Exchange selection interviews on the same afternoon of her return. We believe her willingness to do so successfully made for some additional bonus points when the Rotary Youth Exchange committee assessed her performance and ultimately offered her a place on the program.
And so it was, our daughter said her goodbyes, began to shed a tear, turned and disappeared. Modern technology (thank goodness for international roaming) enabled us to learn that due to the late arrival of the aircraft, its departure time would be affected, this had a cascading effect, in turn affecting it’s arrival at its next hub. This meant an unscheduled overnight stay in Singapore and delayed arrival in Frankfurt, affecting the connecting flight to Hamburg. A new flight was required and a new ticket was purchased in Frankfurt with her newly acquired credit card. Catching the last flight out of Frankfurt for the evening, Madeleine arrived in Hamburg into the arms of her host parents, but without her luggage. It would follow her north in a couple of day’s time to her new home: Flensburg. In the meantime, Madeleine was required to borrow some clothing, as illustrated below.
The Rotary Youth Exchange program had inadvertently placed its first challenge in front of our daughter and, due to her preparation and orientation program, she dealt with the unexpected and succeeded. We as parents could only look on from a vast distance and applaud her willingness to persevere and meet those challenges face on.
This may well be the first of many challenges that our daughter will experience throughout the year, and we’re certainly assured with the support of the Rotary Youth Exchange program that, as the year progresses, those challenges can be met.
Our thanks and praise go to the Rotary Youth Exchange program for giving us the opportunity to ‘make it happen’ and allow our daughter’s dream to come true.