The article was originally published in Odyssey Volume 6 (2017-18)
Many people, especially a lot of parents and adults think that taking a break from academics at a young age of 16/18 is one of the worst things a person can do, because it is the age when students have the highest capability of learning (according to the Indian education system, blindly going to high school or college and learning from a fixed syllabus). Well, from my personal experience, taking a break from school for a year and exploring the world is one of the best things that one can ever do, especially at this age, when learning and grasping to new things is very easy, and being exposed to new environments and different people is crucial, not only for the development of the brain, but also for the improvement of one’s attitude and character.
I am currently on a Youth Exchange program with Rotary in Europe –in the Czech Republic, and if I’m being honest, it has changed me completely. Exchange is living a completely different lifestyle. It involves going to another country, and living with a Host family for 1 year, and study in a school over there, in addition to learning and speaking the native language of that country and living the best life. In exchange, another student from another country is hosted by the student’s family in their home. The best part about Exchange is that it is not too expensive. Students only pay for travel tickets to and from their countries, and provide food, shelter and pay 1 year’s school fee for the student that they are hosting. Food, shelter and school expenses of the outbound student are taken care by the host family in the other country and students also receive a monthly allowance (varies between countries) from Rotary for additional expenditure.
I think that this is essential especially for students in India who aren’t nearly as exposed to different cultures as they think they are. Away from family that always pampers them, away from that fixed group of friends that they always stick to, being challenged to actually live independently, socializing, making new friends, talking to new people in a completely different language, and seeing and doing things they never would have imagined themselves to see or do in their lives. Students carry themselves in the best manner possible because the whole world is looking at them, and it’s up to them to act as great ambassadors for their country, and to ensure that the world sees their country as one of the best countries in the world.
Exchange makes a person independent, smart, and undoubtedly, extremely social. The things that one sees, learns and experiences on exchange is something nobody can learn by reading a book or by limiting themselves to the borders of their own city, state, or for that matter even their country. On Exchange not only do you get to experience and live the lifestyle of the country you are in, or learn and master the native language, but also learn different cultures from all over the world because of the other exchange students who will be your best friends on this journey, of self-improvement and character building.
Exchange is not just a year in your life, it’s life in a year. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, that can change your life for good.
Devang S. Shah (Class of 2017)
Rotary Youth Exchange Programe Student