The value of student exchanges

My Nikkel’s Worth column

As a member of the Weyburn Rotary Club, one of the most interesting and intriguing aspects of the club’s activities has been its international student exchange program.

Through this program, I (and the other club members) have been able to meet and get to know young men and women from around the world, from other cultures and language groups, as they come here for the school year to learn about Canada and being Canadian.

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Every one of the students is different and unique, but the similarity between them has been  their openness to new things, and to learning about our culture — and to sharing what their culture and way of life is all about.

Since COVID-19 has rocked our world, the student exchange program had to be shut down in the spring, and is now not likely to restart until January for long-term exchanges. Short-term exchanges may start up as soon as October, but that really depends on what is happening with the pandemic, and whether host clubs and communities can safely host a student.

This has not diminished the value of the student exchange program, and part of the proof of this is the ongoing connection that we have with past exchange students.

Our club meets by Zoom, thanks to COVID’s all invasive presence, but one of the benefits of this technology has been to see people speak from other locations and other countries, including former exchange students.

This past week, the club heard from the long-time coordinator of the student exchange program for this district, as she is stepping down from her position, along with three past exchange students.

One of them, Ana Beatriz Raduan of Brazil, shared what she is doing now, and talked about what being an exchange student meant.

She said it had been her longtime dream to go on an exchange to another country. “It was an amazing year, and I’m really thankful it happened in 2018. It was an amazing experience for me to learn a new culture. Everybody in the host country is like family.”

I messaged last year’s exchange student, Vivian Huang of Taiwan, and she sent back a succinct but profound response: “It’s not a year in a life, it’s a life happened in a year.”

At her last appearance with the Rotary Club, she also said, “I’m really happy I came to Canada. Canada was my first choice, and I never regretted that.”

The thing is, I’ve heard other exchange students express the same thing. No matter what their individual talents and personalities, they all told of the lessons learned by taking part in the program.