Over at Peppermint Patcher’s household there is excitement and apprehension as her daughter soon embarks upon a Rotary youth exchange to France and her son is scheduled for some serious chest surgery.
It’s an adrenalin-inducing combination that I am familiar with. It is twenty five years to the day since I departed on my own Rotary Youth Exchange from New Zealand to Sunnyside, Washington State, USA leaving behind my parents and (then) four younger siblings, including my brother who had just undergone unexpected brain surgery. I was conscious at the time of setting off on a great adventure but, even in my most earnest dear diary moments, I could not have anticipated what a profound and enduring impact my exchange experience would have on my life.
As an idealistic teenager in New Zealand’s anti-nuclear heyday, I did initially have some ambivalence about being allocated a host club in Reagan’s America (as a long time reader of Anne of Green Gables, I wanted to go to the more wholesome Canada). However, I was won over by the love of my host families, the warmth of the community and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. A quarter of a century later and my bonds with people from my exchange year are as strong as ever.
In 2008, the Rotary Youth Exchange program in Australia celebrates its 50th anniversary. Rotary would like to hear from former exchange students. Contact Stuart McDonald at email@example.com
PS: I’ve posted this picture before but here I am with my sisters Amy and Chantel just hours before my departure on 19 January 1983. I’m not sure that I boarded the plane clutching this illustration by Chantel but it fell out of my diary when I opened it up and I thought it would be a cute addition to this post.