"Even by the 11th month of my exchange to Sweden, I was wishing I could stay an extra few months! There is not just one amazing experience from my exchange program, but a whole year worth of fantastic adventures, funny language misunderstandings, warm people and numerous lessons learnt!
I spent a day with a Duke (for real!) in his castle. I watched a Shakespeare play, performed on an open-air stage in front of a Danish Castle. I mixed up the name of a train station, and ended up exploring a cute little town steeped in history by accident! But my strongest memories revolve around the people I have met, the conversations we had, and the connections we made- even if it was just one lunch together, or doing ordinary things together for a whole year.
Being on exchange opens your eyes to the world, and allows you to think beyond what you have previously known. Go on, give it a try!"
"I have been on exchange for three and a half months so far, and out of all the things I have done in Austria the standout so far is ANZAC day.
However the real highlights of the service were the wreath laying, the ode and the last post. It is very hard to explain, but when the exchange students laid their flowers on behalf of the Rotary Youth Exchange group, my chest was puffed up with pride, and I am sure I wasn´t the only one. While our flowers may have been dwarfed in size by the wreaths laid by the embassies, there was no corresponding lack of feeling, of that I am certain.
Then to hear the ode and the last post in the beautiful Karlskirche immediately afterwards was an experience that can only be described as mind-numbing. It was something about being so far from home, in what was the heart of enemy territory when the ANZAC legend was formed, and still being able to come together as a group to celebrate this day like no other.
In the minutes´ silence afterwards, all of the minds in the church were fixed solidly on the ANZACS; their bravery and their many sacrifices. Those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who returned with terrible injuries, and those who will always be haunted by what they had seen and done in times of war had all done so out of love for that great brown land down under, which we call home. Their actions not only gave us a free country to live in and a life comparatively devoid of hardship, but also went a long way towards forming the identity of the two partaking countries, in the eyes of the rest of the world and those at home.
In some way I had known all of this before, but it struck a deeper chord this year. Exchange has made me more proud of my country, mainly by helping me to realise and appreciate the many things that I had always taken for granted in Australia.
Needless to say, during the singing of the national anthems as the service drew to a close, we all sang loudly and proudly, never prouder to Australians and New Zealanders, never prouder to be part of the ANZAC tradition, and never prouder to have been a part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program that can bring about such things."
I was lucky enough to spend a year of my life on the shores of Lake Como in Northern Italy in a small city called Lecco. I still remember so clearly my first night after a long flight full of both excitement and nervousness. I was greeted by a huge extended family and taken out to a pizzeria.
It was an absolutely incredible experience. I grew up by the beach, so living so close to the Alps was unlike anything I had seen before. Throughout the year though I travelled to places like Venice, Rome, Sardinia, Florence, Pisa and many more with friends, host families and Rotary. I even went to France with my school!
Food was another part of my exchange that I will never forget. It is a vital part of Italian culture and they make sure you enjoy it! I still crave pizza from the little pizzeria where I was taken by my host family on my first night in Italy.
My best memory was being woken up early by one of my host families and taken on a private helicopter ride over Lake Como. Doing exchange was one of the best decisions of my life and put so many things in perspective for me. I hope that you do too.
Last weekend i was lucky enough to be able to travel to Japan's north island,
Hokkaido, to attend the wedding of Takao Tsuchiya and Satsuki Seyama. Takao's
younger sister, Chiyumi, was hosted by Caringbah Rotary Club 15 years ago as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. My family had the pleasure of hosting Chiyumi for
about 6 months, and even though at that time I was only 3 years old, I remember
playing games and singing songs with my cool older sister. Since then, our
family has remained very close with the Tsuchiya family, so when it was
announced that Takao was engaged, my mum, sister and I were all invited to the
wedding as part of the family. So, not only did my weekend involve flying to one
of the most beautiful parts of Japan to experience a traditional Japanese style
wedding, but it also involved meeting up with my mum and sister!!
Traditionally, Japanese wedding ceremonies are held in the Shinto Shrine, and only the family attends. The close relationship that has built up between my family and the Tsuchiya's means that we see each other as family, so we were therefore invited to the ceremony in the shrine. As well as this, my sister Milly and I were dressed in special Kimono for the ceremony, as were the rest of the family. The ceremony only lasted about 30 minutes, and involved the bride and groom drinking special Saki out of the same bowl, exchanging rings, and preying to the Gods. Eventhough most of the Japanese used was ancient Japanese and therefore hard to understand, the atmosphere of the ceremony and the reactions of the relatives made it a touching ceremony and I felt extremely honoured to be a part of it.
After the actual ceremony, approximately 250 guests attending the reception party. The party involved listening to speeches, singing songs, listening to the bride play the Koto, a traditional japanese instrument, and eating a delicious dinner. The food all looked so delicious, but because the Obi (the belt of the kimono) was so tight, it was hard to eat anything at all! The beauty of the kimono and the amazing feeling both Milly and I received from being seen as such close family compensated the lack of food we were able to eat!
This amazing experience would not have been possible had my family not had the change to host Chiyumi those 15 years ago, and allow us to extend the walls of our family to the other side of the world. It made me think, during the 2.5 hour flight back to Kyoto on Sunday night, how much Rotary exchange has meant to me, not only for past the 6 weeks that i have been living in Japan, but ever since we hosted Chiyumi, and all the students to follow. The brothers and sisters I have from Japan, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, and all over the world mean so much to me, and for me to be able to call them my brothers and sisters is something only achievable through a program like Rotary. The feelings I've received from them is exactly how I want my families here to see me. I'm trying my best everyday be part of the family, so that on my wedding day, I can look down not only to see my Australian family, but also my Japanese family, smiling back at me.