The year that Weyburn student Gene Irwin spent as a Rotary exchange student in Germany was one the best years of his life, members of the Weyburn Rotary Club heard recently.
Irwin, the son of Brad and Sara Irwin of Weyburn, reported on his year-long exchange with a power-point slide show as he explained what was involved in his stay.
His exchange was to the small town of Schmallenberg, a town of about 6,000 located 96 km east of Cologne in the Sauerland district.
His first host family was with a German author and his family, the Wasserfalls.
The family took him on a holiday to the Island of Borkum in the North Sea, where sunbathers could reserve "baskets" on the beach, so one's space is reserved.
There were enough exchange students, and former exchange students, to form a "Rotex" club, and they held a Christmas party with 150 exchange students from around the world.
Irwin chuckled that the group held a costume party where all the guys dressed as Santa, and all the girls dressed as angels.
"We also had to go to the Rotary Club and sing Christmas carols; we didn't do very well," he added.
He was then taken on a holiday ski trip to Switzerland at a resort about 130 km southeast of Zurich, and he was able to walk to the mountain every day from the hostel they stayed in.
"My ski teacher was from Switzerland, but he used to live in Burnaby, so we got along really well," said Irwin.
The day they got home in Germany from Switzerland was his 19th birthday, which he celebrated with his friends in the host town.
Irwin related also how they went to a neighbouring town to eat at a McDonalds, and ran into the Canadian Olympic women's bobsled team, including two gold medal winners, and he was able to eat with them and visit with them.
His next host family were the Liedtkes, and during his time with them, Irwin went on another ski trip with some 40 to 50 other Rotary exchange students in Austria, near Innsbruck, which was much larger than the resort he visited in Switzerland.
One of the major highlights of his year-long stay was a major tour of Europe, that took him to such cities as Prague, Vienna, Venice, Florence, Rome and Vatican City, Nice and Paris.
Of Venice, he said, "It's really cool but I wouldn't want to live there. For a guy from Weyburn, Saskatchewan, though, it was pretty awesome."
They briefly stopped in Pisa to get a photo of the famous leaning tower while on their way to France. In Nice, the temperature was 25 degrees and the water was warm and blue; in Paris, he saw such sights as the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.
Of the Tower, Irwin said, "If you want to see it lit up, you have to go at night but you can't climb it then; if you want to climb it, you have to be there during the day."
The trip also took him to the former East Germany, and he stood on where the border used to be located.
He noted he also fell in love with the game of soccer while in Germany, with Dortmund his favourite team — and they happened to win the title while he was there. He recalled there was about a half-million people in Dortmund when they won the title, beating his brother's favourite team.
Another highlight of his trip was to see the Canadian war memorial in Holland, and he noted the people's mentality is very much different there than in Germany.
Back in Germany, a big highlight of the springtime was what they called the "Schutzenfest".
"It's bigger than Christmas," said Irwin. "All it is, is drinking beer and target shooting. You can buy a couple beer for 60 cents."
As if his tour of Europe wasn't enough, his class then got to take a trip to Ireland where they saw the countryside as well as some of the sights in the cities.
Looking back on his exchange year, Irwin thanked the Rotary Club for helping him to be able to go.
"It was one of the best years of my life; I urge you to keep supporting it," Irwin told the Rotary members of the student exchange program.