By Micaela Colonna
Mason Times staff writer
Moving away from home after high school is a big transition for most United States students. But for Mason High School senior Gwen Bagley, her move this fall will take her across the world.
Bagley will participate in Mason’s Rotary Youth Exchange, a program that gives students at Mason High School and overseas the opportunity to study abroad for an entire year.
“I’ve been looking at what I want to do next year,” Bagley said. “And I don’t have a concrete decision on which college I want to go to or what I want to major in. The program might help me make that decision.”
To become an exchange student, prospects are required to fill out applications, provide letters of recommendation and participate in interviews. Once accepted, they rank the countries in order of preference and wait to hear where they have been placed.
Bagley is busy practicing German as she will be traveling to Austria in August. Thrilled to have received her first choice, she is looking forward to immersing herself in a new culture.
“I hope to gain an understanding of another culture,” Bagley said. “I’d like to be able to throw myself into new situations, adapt to them and overcome them.”
Rotary District 6360 Outbound Chairperson Ingrid Nova said that although the program puts a lot of pressure on students, it also broadens their minds.
“As an exchange student, you represent your country,” Nova said. “So you have to be a good ambassador. But the opportunity for travel, meeting new people and learning a new language can be useful in the future. You might even become fluent in that language, and that looks good on a résumé.”
Not only does the Rotary send its students abroad, but it also welcomes foreign students to America.
Adèle Grégoire, an exchange student from Brussels, traveled to Mason last August. Since arriving to the U.S., Grégoire said she has noticed some differences between Belgian and American culture.
“If you buy something at a restaurant in Belgium, it will be more expensive than cooking at home,” Grégoire said. “Even though the fast food here isn’t healthy, you can buy a meal every day, and it will almost always be cheaper than cooking at home.”
Having always been interested in American culture, the exchange student said she has learned a lot about herself while living here.
“I knew I wanted to discover the world and learn another culture and language,” Grégoire said. “So instead of comparing cultures and creating stereotypes, I’m just learning to say something is different. I’ve realized that if you are open with people, they are going to accept you.”
The Rotary Youth Exchange will be sending four Mason High School students abroad this year, each to a different country: Italy, Denmark, Austria and Japan. Even though they will be thousands of miles from home, Nova hopes the students will grasp a better understanding of the world.
“When you’re living with a family, you have people looking out for you,” Nova said. “If you adjust and be flexible, you will come back as a different person in a good way.”