Experiences

Victoria Barker – Germany 2009

Georgia Arnold – Switzerland 2009

Caitlin Martin – Denmark 2008

Paris CaitlinI am Caitlin Martin and I spent 2008 living in the small but proud country of Denmark. Going on Rotary Exchange to Denmark was the most amazing experience of my life. While I was in Denmark I went to Danish High School or ‘Gymnasium’. Lived with 4 very different Host Families and learnt the strange Danish language. I made a large group of new friends both Danish and from all over the World. I travelled into 13 different countries, saw places I had only read about in school, and basically had the time of my life. I wouldn’t swap my year as the ‘Australian Exchange Student’ for anything and I would recommend it to everyone.

Jerren Heng – Switzerland, 2008

Swiss Alps

Going to Switzerland on exchange, I would consider, to be the best time of my life so far. Going there knowing nothing and coming back (not wanting to come back) proved how much experience I had gained over that year. The people are the most friendly, helpful and caring people you can ever meet. As an exchange student, especially in Switzerland, the sign of confidence and the ability to speak up will open up many doors for you.

Although very welcoming, the people are sometimes very held back and it was important for me to always make the first move. School was one of the highlights and it was the place I made the most friends and also refined my language skills, both German and ‘Swiss German’ (Swiss German is a dialect from German and cannot be written, as it is not an official language to say. There are similarities but it could be its own langauge with few grammatical or word similarities. Swiss German is spoken amongst the people but High German are taught at schools and written on signs, boards, etc.). To be able to speak their language (Swiss German) is very impressive to them although most of them can also speak perfect english. The majority of Rotary Clubs in Switzerland will give you a GA “General Abonnement” (public transport card) for the year which enables you to travel all around the country on any bus, train, tram or boat for free. Switzerland is the home of the great lakes, magical mountains and historical villages and cities. With my GA, I’m glad I took the opportunity to see what the country had to offer. Also with permission from Rotary, take the chance to see the rest of Europe with close surrounding countries such as France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria and the Czech Republic.

It’s important to try new things and experience such a different culture to what we have here in Australia. Say ‘yes’, smile and it will always lead to great adventures in the land of chocolate and cheese. I know I did! 🙂 – Jerren.

Rhys Madigan – Lahti, Finland 2005

Exchange is a frustratingly difficult experience to relate. The concept is so simple: spend a year overseas, attend school, live with host families. I think many people view exchange in this way and wonder what the point is. They wonder why you would go on exchange and travel thousands of miles to attend school (“can’t you do that here?”) or see another country (“couldn’t you just take a tour?”). But you gain so many different valuable experiences along the way, learn life lessons and gain maturity beyond that usually expected for your age. In a completely different environment, isolated from your family and friends, you have a chance to discover yourself and figure out what is important to you in life. You work out how to build friendships from scratch and you learn not to be afraid of people you don’t know. You notice that some practices you think are strange (e.g. tucking jeans into socks) can be seen as perfectly normal, ‘cool’, and even practical (stops jeans from getting wet in the snow). You learn that often there are no rights or wrongs, just different ways of doing things and as a result, you stop worrying about what people think and express yourself how you feel. You learn a different language, but more than this, you find that languages are actually useful and interesting things, not just something you’re forced to study in school. You make friends with other exchange students from countries across the world and have many different places to visit and stay. You develop relationships with your host families that last. You find that writing this 4 years later, you still have so many intense memories…

Here’s some: Sitting in the plane with other, then unknown, exchange students about to take off to a different land, having no idea what was coming. Outside Helsinki airport, snow everywhere, and being excited at seeing it. Orientation camp, walking on the frozen lake (and thinking it was scary), sauna for the first time, rolling in the snow and swimming in the lake. Arriving at my first host family, unpacking in my room, looking out the back window at the snow covered landscape and for the first time realising that I was completely alone and realising what an unimaginably long time a year is. Arriving at school, knowing no one, understanding very little. Falling over on ice, in the snow, many many times. Not falling over so much by the second winter. Arriving at the Eiffel Tower on a balmy summers evening, watching the daylight fade and the lights of the streets and buildings come to life from the Tower and feeling on top of the world. Returning from -10 degree days to a week of +40. I could go on and on… Basically I went from being a boy who grew up in a small country town to travelling across Europe, to speaking another language and developing a network of friends and family in Finland, and across the world. This experience is life changing, unforgettable and incredibly worthwhile.