Great Expectations for a Year in Brazil

[Editor’s Note]: For more than 75 years, students and host families have broadened their horizons through Rotary Youth Exchange. More than 80 countries and 8,000 students participate in the program each year. Gibraltar student Ella Norris will spend the next school year in Brazil. She wanted to share her excitement about the coming year with Pulse readers. For more information on the Rotary Youth Exchange, visit

Ella Norris

Most Door County locals may be unfamiliar with the path of an exchange student. I’ll admit that I had no idea what I was in for when I decided to commit to an international exchange, yet the decision was a milestone in my life that I knew then, as I know now, I will never regret. I haven’t even left yet, but the experience of preparing for my yearlong adventure in Brazil has already been enriching and exciting beyond my expectations. The people I’ve met, the things I’ve learned, the awesome stories I’ve heard from other exchange students that I’ve met along the way, all have made me exceedingly grateful for this opportunity.

Being an exchange student has given me much to appreciate and much to look forward to in the year to come.

Through the Rotary Youth Exchange program, not only have I made friends with the dozens of other exchange students in Wisconsin and Michigan during our conferences, but I have also met people from exotic corners of the world: from urban France and Poland to rural South Korea and to countries whose names I may never even be able to pronounce. These are friendships I cherish and hope to hold on to for years to come.

In the months ahead, I will embark on my yearlong journey in Brazil, where I will learn of places I have never dreamed of and forge friendships in a new language, which I have admittedly not practiced enough so far.

Being a future exchange student has brought me a lot of fun and very unique experiences, and I haven’t even left Wisconsin yet.

The cultural interactions entailed by youth exchange are renowned for extending enriching benefits to anyone who becomes involved. The exchange students I’ve met – those visiting from foreign countries as well as those returned to the U.S. after being abroad – have all enlightened me. They share words of encouragement and their personal experiences from time abroad that have had lifelong impacts. Stories of faraway places are a constant chatter at our conferences. Many returned exchange students become so close to the family that hosts them while they’re abroad that they keep in contact for years, if not for life.

In fact, a couple I’ve met during our weekly Rotary Club meetings unexpectedly expanded their role as host parents for an exchange student years ago. They became like a second family to their European exchange student, and eventually helped her attend college in Green Bay. Now the couple and the former exchange student pay each other occasional visits across the Atlantic, constantly sharing the gifts of culture and friendship. These cultural gifts have resulted in what is possibly the only green and gold adorned house in Europe. In a humorous twist, the time actually came for the former exchange student to ask the Door County couple to stop sending these Packer-fanatic gifts when she got a call from her son’s concerned kindergarten teacher, asking why the boy would only draw pictures using green and yellow crayons. This was an extraordinary case to have developed from a youth exchange, but it is a perfect example of the life-changing treasures that anyone might find through their involvement in youth exchange.

Even the families hosting exchange students come to understand and enjoy an unfamiliar, distant culture from the comfort of their own homes, and in the process form a unique friendship with the student with whom they share their own traditions and hobbies. These benefits that can be discovered through youth exchange are incomparable to any other experience. They are not experiences you can find in travel guides, or on TV, or even on an exotic vacation.

Being involved in a youth exchange is life changing, life improving, and enlightening in ways that are simply unattainable to those who choose to remain secluded from the wonders that may be found in these cultural interactions

The path of an exchange student has led me closer to my goals than I ever imagined I could be by this point in my life. While my friends and peers complain of how they can’t wait to get out of this town, I’m already on my way. I am thrilled to be a part of the Rotary Youth Exchange, both excited and nervous for the day that I will stand in front of new Brazilian classmates, being introduced with words that I will struggle to understand. I can’t wait to meet my future host families, who as of yet I know nothing about, but who I soon will be trading traditions and sharing incredible experiences.

Finally, I look forward to returning to Door County in the year 2014, and being able to share with the people here the newly found knowledge, gifts and memories I will bring with me. The exchange program I am involved in is one of the most welcoming, friendly communities I’ve ever witnessed, thus opening opportunity screaming of adventure, expansion, education and other unnamable benefits to anyone interested in being involved.

As my experience, although brief so far, has already expanded my life in many great directions, I highly encourage that everyone capable – as being host parents, volunteers or exchange students themselves – should at some point find themselves on a likewise path.