Brayden King was able to spend the past 11 months in Belgium, as part of the Rotary’s Student Exchange program. The Weyburn Rotary Club works with Rotary Clubs around the world to send local students abroad for a year and bring students from other countries to Weyburn. King spoke to the Rotary members about his time abroad on August 1.
When an exchange student comes to Weyburn through the program, they are usually the only one and don’t have any connections with other exchange students because of the small town nature. King had a different experience however and had over 300 other exchange students to explore Belgium with.
Even though he had graduated from Weyburn Comprehensive before he left, King was required to attend school while away.
“My school was called IPES in a city called Wavre. It was a technical school and I feel like I got super lucky with the school that I was put into it because technical schools in Belgium are usually set up for the students that might not go to university afterwards, so they try to set them up with a workplace education. I was in graphic design and I had 16 hours of graphic design per week and I learned a lot.”
King went on to explain that through school he was able to do a three week internship at a beer company to make designs for them. Altogether, King felt the technical school was the best fit for him and made his trip all that much better.
One of King’s biggest struggles was the language barrier. He only knew a little bit of French before going to Belgium. King gave two examples of what really motivated him to become fairly fluent in French while he was there. King was four months into his exchange, his host family dad told him that from them on they would only be speaking in French. King said that was one of the hardest parts of his exchange, but that it was probably exactly what he needed. The second example was that he made some really good friendships at school, but not a lot of them spoke English.
“By the end of my year, I was speaking in French with all of my friends at school. Even the ones that spoke fluent English, I said I want to speak in French with you. I think that was a big move in my exchange.”
The exchange students had the option to go on trips through the Rotary Club. King decided to take the trip to Barcelona along with 70 exchange students, and he said he was glad that he made that choice.
“We got to visit all of the major landmarks there. We also did a bike tour and we were all kind of dreading it because four hours on bikes doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, but I feel like it is the best way to see the city. We got to ride all along the coast and see some really cool things that you might not see otherwise.”
King also had the chance to visit Paris, Luxembourg City, Cologne, Germany and Amsterdam. Perhaps his most meaningful trip was one where he got to visit family.
For Christmas King stayed with his grandpa’s cousin and his family who lived just south of France.. This was only his third time seeing them, but King said he felt right at home.
“Even though I wasn’t with immediate family for Christmas, I was with family. It was a nice feeling of home; a nice feeling of being loved. I didn’t really have a lot of hard times in my exchange and you go in thinking Christmas might be a really hard time, but it wasn’t for me; they made it really easy for me and we had a lot of fun.”
In Belgium, there are two times in the year that exchange students can arrive. For Canadian exchange, the students arrive in generally in August and leave in July. For Australia, Argentina and New Zealand exchange, the students arrive in January at that’s usually a smaller group. This means that the two groups of exchange students overlap. King arrived in August and the group that started in January became a guides, or Oldies as the exchange group calls it, for the new group, or the Newies. The Newies then become Oldies once the next group comes.
“There was thing called “The Title” that is passed down from generation to generation and the name of the title is “Best Newy”. It’s basically given to the exchange student who the Oldies thought was the best and happiest exchange student that was always with the exchange students and helping everybody. Out of 300 exchange students in my generation, I graciously received that title and it was a pretty cool experience because I got to do a lot of leadership activities with all the exchange students and organize meet ups with everyone.”
Overall King said he had an experience of a lifetime and is very gracious to the Rotary Club for choosing him to go.
“I can honestly say I had the perfect year. I didn’t have day go by that I wasn’t 100 per cent happy where I was. I don’t think I ever had home sickness because I was too busy having fun, there was no time for home sickness. Thank you for giving me this opportunity. It was literally the best experience of my life so far.”