Rotary program gives students opportunity to study abroad
While study abroad programs are commonplace in colleges and universities, it’s a bit more rare for high school students to get the chance to live and learn in a foreign country.
That makes students in Grand County a little luckier than most.
The Winter Park – Fraser Valley Rotary Club sponsors local students to travel abroad to countries around the world as part of the Rotary International Youth Exchange Program.
High school students, generally those going into the 11th or 12th grade, can apply for the program. Candidates are selected through a rigorous interview process, said Lloyd Waldron, who administers the program with the Winter Park – Fraser Valley Rotary.
“This an extremely hard thing for a student to do, and we realize that and try to make sure that we’re sending students off that will have a high probability of success,” Waldron said.
Only a few spaces are available each year.
For the select few who make it through the interview process, the experience is extremely rewarding.
“They have a great time,” Waldron said. “Those that go almost always stay the whole time and they have a wonderful, wonderful time.”
The exchange period lasts around ten months.
Winter Park – Fraser Valley Rotary is currently sponsoring students in Brazil, France and Sweden, Waldron said.
Rachel Sanderson, a sophomore at Middle Park High School, has long been aware of the program.
“It has always been, not really a dream, but more of a goal of mine to be an exchange student,” Sanderson said.
Last September, Sanderson signed up for the interview process.
In December, Sanderson traveled to Denver for the last stage of the interview process.
“It was all very secretive,” Sanderson said. “You knew the whole time you were being watched. You were being constantly graded on what you were doing.”
Of the 26 students that participated, Sanders was one of 19 students selected for the program. She will travel to Belgium in August for ten months.
The farthest Sanderson has gone abroad is Mexico, but she’s not nervous about her upcoming trip.
“I think when we live in a small place like Grand County, you forget that there’s a whole world out there, and it’s not just Grand County,” Sanderson said. “So guess I opened myself up to the idea that I could live in a place like Europe, that that’s a possibility, and the Rotary program let me do that. I’m extremely grateful.”
She currently has a Gofundme page to help cover the costs of her trip.
Local families also get a chance to host a foreign student as part of the exchange program.
“Inbounders” stay with three different families for a period of three months each through the duration of the program, Waldron said.
Students from countries including Italy, Austria, Argentina and Peru have stayed with families in Grand County as part of the program.
The program is currently looking for local host families.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-557-6010.
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