I’ve been holding out on you. First, because we weren’t sure if it would actually happen, and then, because we’ve been so busy making it happen. And now, it’s about time I shared it, so I can believe that it’s actually happening.
J is going to spend her senior year of high school in Italy. Yep, in less than a week, she’ll be going far, far away.
Are you completely freaking out? You probably should be, because I am completely freaking out. She will be getting on a plane on Wednesday. She is packing right this minute. It is apparently actually happening.
This has been an arduous process that began about this time last year, when J first broached the subject with Cute W and me. Apparently, spending all of that Covid time shut in her room learning online had motivated her to get out and explore. She’d been looking into programs on her own, and. . . well, what did we think? Personally, I never would have had the guts to go away to a different country for a full year of high school, but if she was up for it, we thought it was a great idea.
She had found several different programs that could potentially offer her the opportunity to study abroad in a country that was simply calling to her: Sweden. Why Sweden? She likes the winter, she appreciates their environmental awareness, she was charmed by the idea of going foraging for mushrooms in the forest. The drawbacks were that most of the programs cost about $14K to $18K, and it wasn’t entirely clear if and where they’d be running due to the pandemic. J met with her guidance counselor, and soon we switched gears.
The clear best choice for us was the Rotary Youth Exchange. We were vaguely aware that this was a thing that existed, and my dad was even a Rotarian. But I didn’t know much about it, and did we need to be members to participate? We did not. I’m sure that it varies from place to place, but here in Niskayuna, if a student is interested in an exchange and asks about it at the high school, they’re happy to connect you to the local Rotary club, and if you are a good fit for the program, they’ll basically endorse you as well as connecting you. I know that it can be very competitive in some places, and I’ve met people who weren’t selected, but in our local region, J is literally the only student going on a youth exchange this year, so the endorsement from the high school was enough to get the ball rolling.
Why was Rotary Youth Exchange the clear best choice? Rotary International is a not-for-profit service organization, and they see the exchange as part of their larger mission: “Rotary Youth Exchange builds peace one young person at a time.” Rotary Youth Exchange students are ambassadors, but they’re also supported and welcomed by a bunch of tremendously lovely people who are deeply enthusiastic about the program. Host families are vetted volunteers, and many of them have hosted numerous young people already, and they keep doing it because they love it. There’s extensive preparation ahead of time, and then a support system beyond the host families set up in the host country. Rotarians are encouraged to host kids for dinner, to take them on day trips, and to invite them to join their clubs, teams, and volunteer pursuits. Rotary Youth Exchange scholars connect with each other, meeting “outbounds” ~ other kids from their area who are planning to go abroad ~ and “inbounds”~ the students from all over the world who will be studying for their exchange year in the same region ~ along with everyone they’ll meet in their new neighborhood and school. And since the students are serving as part of this peace mission instead of customers purchasing an exchange experience, they don’t have to pay for room, board, or school fees. There are expenses: travel, visa fees, supplementary insurance, and incidentals. But they also provide a stipend of spending money. So it is an awesome deal.
As it happens, Sweden isn’t doing the Rotary Exchange program this year. I’ll explain more about the process later, but, long story short, J is going to Italy, and she is thrilled about it. She’ll be attending a school in Trento, which in Northeast Italy, in the mountains close to Switzerland and Austria.
Early on, we weren’t sure if this would work out, so J had kept her plans to herself, which was a bit tough. For example, when she played her last high school volleyball game, no one else knew she wouldn’t be back the next season, and of course she’ll miss those sports senior nights and other events. But even if no one knew that she’d be saying goodbye early, it’s definitely been on her mind all year long. Through all the most super-fun high school activities, she’s tried to embrace the moment while always feeling low-key excitement about what the next year would bring.
It’s also been a ton of work. She’s had her Rotary application and preparation activities, she’s been completing as many high school senior year credits as possible to keep on track for a June graduation, and knowing that she’ll be abroad all year means that the college search/choice/application process has been condensed, big-time. Plus, she’s been learning Italian. She’s been doing tons of work for most of the summer.
We are happy and nervous and excited for her. Of course, you know what this also means: we are Surprise Empty Nesters a whole year early. Stay tuned to hear how that goes.