Youth Exchange Program


The most powerful force in the promotion of international understanding and peace is exposure to different cultures. The world becomes a smaller, friendlier place when we learn that all people – regardless of nationality – desire the same basic things: a safe, comfortable environment that allows for a rich and satisfying life for our children and ourselves. The Rotary Youth Exchange Program provides thousands of young people with the opportunity to meet people from other lands and to experience their cultures. This plants the seeds for a lifetime of international understanding.


The first documented youth exchanges date back to 1927 when a Rotary Club in France initiated exchanges with other European students. Exchanges between clubs in the US began in 1939. In 1972, the Rotary International Board of Directors agreed to recommend Youth Exchange to clubs worldwide recognizing it as a worthwhile activity that promotes global peace and understanding. This year, more than 8,000 teens will be part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program, ensuring that they see the world as it is best seen-from the inside out.


Rotary Exchange students spend a year living with a host family in a country other than their own. They may learn a new language, and will certainly learn a new way of living and a great deal about themselves. But, there’s more. While they are busy learning, the people they will be meeting will be learning as well-about their country, culture, and ideas. The Exchange Student becomes an ambassador-helping to bring the world closer together. It broadens the horizons of both parties-the host group and the host student.


Rotary looks for students that are juniors, seniors, or have graduated and preparing for university/college. They must be in the top third of their class. Rotary looks for students that are flexible, tolerant, and quirky, with a desire to learn about other cultures.


The students have the ability to say what counties they are interested in, although there is no clear preference/choice given to the outgoing student as to what country they will be going to. Outbound students have intensive orientation sessions each month prior to departure, and are given homework about their destination country. Upon arrival, students meet monthly with other inbound students to talk about their experiences and difficulties. In addition, Exchange Students are assigned a counselor, separate from their host family, to help solve any problems they may be having.


Room and board is provided by the host family. The Exchange Student’s family assumes certain financial obligations; round-trip airfare, health insurance, and pocket money. The Host Club more often than not provides a monthly allowance which is used for things such as haircuts, lunch money, friend’s night out, and other incidentals. In most cases, the host family pays for dinners out, entry fees to museums, games, sites to see. The Exchange Student’s family may, at times, be required to pay a fee to Rotary District for the student to participate. This depends on current governance and their policy. For instance, this year, District has not funded certain mandatory exchange trips which have put an additional financial burden on the host club. Other years, District has incurred the cost. The host family assumes a major financial obligation, which may be offset by voluntary contributions from club members for certain events.

LOCAL IMPACT: Think Globally, Act Locally, Discuss and Stay in touch.

The above line says it all; it is about helping to build a global community of people who care about one another; it is about working with people in your own community to both help and foster understanding; to discuss events, cultures, and ideas in order create a better understanding of those issues; and stay in touch as long-term ambassadors promoting acceptance of diversity.

Some illustrations of this from current and prior host families

  • Learning that Armenian genocide is not false…
  • Learning that the US is not a country that is so unsafe you can’t walk around
  • Learning that the Greek culture is similar to their own
  • Breaking down stereotypes about the Muslim faith with a Christian friend who then gave a speech on it at his church
  • Opening the eyes of more privileged Hunterdon County youth about the conditions that exist outside their worlds
  • Creating a more diverse experience in a community that is not as diverse
  • Creating a network of individuals who return to their country and promote the ideas of acceptance, tolerance, and understanding
  • Developing a recognition that racism occurs in all cultures and that individuals can make a difference
  • Creating networks of extended families of different faiths and cultures that stay in touch and become members of those broader communities

In our Club alone, we have hosted over 20 students in the last twenty years. The most recent host parents have been Catherine and Jay Langley, Harrie and Cheryl Copeland, Terry and Ginger Ownes, and Karen and Mike Widico. And, of course, the beloved grandmother, Gwen Doremus-Williams who often helps out in a pinch!!


As you know, the Exchange Program is at risk due to the fact that Rotary cannot find enough host families. It is understood that this requires a major commitment that some people are unable to undertake. In the same way that one person can make a difference globally, small steps here on the local level will ensure the continuance and vitality of this program. This includes:

  • Having the student over for dinner/or out to eat-they love to meet people!
  • Getting tickets to and/or contributing to pro-games
  • Take them or contribute to taking them to a national site-all want to see NYC, Broadway, national museums, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the list goes on.
  • Take time to get to know them AND broaden your own horizons.
  • Take them on a hobby of yours; boating, skiing, sailing, golfing-the list is endless.

Most, if not all, of the students we have hosted are like sponges-they want to experience and learn all that they can, and want to hear from many different perspectives.


Julia..2001…Germany….Widico’s and Copeland’s..Investment Banker…She has visited here and both host parents have visited there…Stays in touch

Chris…1992…South Africa…Businessman…Stays in touch

Erica…2001…Widico’s and Copeland’s…..University graduate, attending graduate school…Stays in touch

Jorge…1994…Venezuala…Copeland’s…Businessman..Stays in touch

Maribel….2004…Widico’s…University and traveling with other short-term exchanges…Has visited the US post-exchange…. Stays in touch

These are just a few of the many students we have hosted. It puts the “human face” to the program.