L-R: Isa (Chile), Luise (Austria), Eva (Germany), DG Gary & wife Jan, Elise (France), Tijn (Netherlands), Clara (Denmark)
Front L-R: Robyn Inbound Coordinator & Tracey Faber RYE Chair
The District 9920 Rotary Youth Exchange Committee recently held a very special function for the departing RYE students, their host families, Counsellors and other Rotarian’s connected with the RYE programme. The gratitude of the students for the extraordinary and life changing experience of their exchange in New Zealand (their words) was evident as was the positive impact the students also made with their host families who commented that these students were an endorsement of their countries and the RYE programme.
Most people have heard of the Rotary Youth Exchange, the world's biggest and best-known student cultural exchange program. It is said that the programme provides students with a ‘year that defines a lifetime’ and the students about to depart after a year in New Zealand and Alumni who later in life reflect on their participation would endorse this as almost an understatement. The following is a distillation of the presentations from the departing students, their host families and Counsellors.
As students arrived through the airport at the beginning of their exchange their excitement was tempered, a little, by some trepidation at the unknown.  Any worries were very quickly dispelled as their host families embraced them immediately into their families making the students instantly “at home”.  This feeling of acceptance and inclusion continued as they changed families throughout the year and the emotion shown by the students as they recounted their relationship with their host families made it clear that the bond developed was strong and no doubt will last a lifetime.  Their host families were successful in integrating the students into the New Zealand way of life, something so crucial for the quality of their experience away in a country they knew little about and a language they had varying degrees of competency with.
Without host families the exchange programme cannot happen and is a substantial commitment as ideally, a minimum of three families are needed per student, through the year.  The arrival of the students into the family is a huge commitment but all found the inclusion of their exchange student into their family (for the few months they had them) was a transformational experience they would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone.
Each student also has a supporting host Rotary club who provide a Counsellor and students are expected to attend their meetings and activities as much as they were able.  Like the host families, these clubs were welcoming and supportive of the students and far from being an obligation, their involvement with their host clubs was an enriching and very pleasant experience.
The activities the students engaged in were diverse.  Their host families included them in family activities and holidays and often went way above and beyond to provide diverse and amazing experiences for them.  Examples range from camping and fishing trips to the Coromandel, skiing at Whakapapa, back country tramping, heli-fishing, bungy jumping and farm stays (learning to milk a cow!)  The amount of travel, sights and experiences their host families provided was immense and so very appreciated.  It is impossible to report the range of experiences they had but each one was valued by both the student and those including them.
There were also organised activities via the District RYE Committee.  Soon after arrival all had to attend a Marae Weekend where they stayed on a Marae and had an in-depth introduction to Maori culture that gave valuable insight to Aotearoa-New Zealand, adding a uniqueness to their experiences throughout their year.  Auckland Day saw them experiencing the behind-the-scenes of Auckland Police, Fire and Emergency, a meeting with the Deputy-Mayor, and a 'great-race' style challenge across the CBD ending with a BBQ.  Later in their year, fortunately before Lockdown, was a highlight of their time in New Zealand, the South Island Experience – if there is a sight to see or an experience to be had in the South Island they probably saw it and did it. 
During the year the students were given a project to give back in the form of raising funds for Emergency Reponse Kits (ERKs).  Auctioning morning teas, sausage sizzles, selling cookies, working odd jobs, gaining activity sponsorships were all part of how they raised $6,635 between them!  This 'giving back' activity is unique to District 9920.
Lockdown!  Their experience was similar to all in New Zealand with the added concern for family back home.  It was however a chance for them to really get to know the families they were staying with and the small things are remembered; one student said he became a fan of The Chase as the whole family included watching this into their lockdown routine.  They got through!
Their reference group was their fellow Rotary Exchange Students with whom they made firm friends. Whenever they could get together they made an event of it.  These were the people who were going through the same experiences with whom they could closely relate and share experiences or concerns.  The next group was their school mates; initially they had difficulty fitting in because Kiwi’s are an open people and relate differently than friends at home but it is clear their resilience and desire to fit in eventually succeeded and kiwi school friends were made.
The students did mention that there were tough times such as missing family at Christmas time.  For some there were times it seemed like a roller coaster of a trip, but they could not have wished for a better experience.  The exchange changed them as a person and while they themselves did not much notice it, others did.  Some words used to describe the exchange included - “hard”, “exhausting” but with an emphasis on “fun” and “incredibly eventful”.  There were lots of other outcomes such as learning to be independent and more organised, an especially important trait given their busy schedules.
The Rotary Youth Exchange programme is intended to foster international understanding and goodwill.  These students were outstanding ambassadors for their countries and for Rotary.  The network they now have spans the globe and will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.  Their lives have been enriched and they have enriched the lives of those they have touched. 
The Rotary Youth Exchange programmes is deservedly one of the outstanding successes of Rotary. Thank you to all who support this.
The pictures here show the students being introduced by Inbound Coordinator Robyn Ingram and the second is a very special recognition of Graham Rae who was presented with a 3-Sapphire Paul Harris Fellow in appreciation for his 19 years’ service to the District 9920 Rotary Youth Exchange programme. Current RYE District 9920 Chair Tracey Faber was also recognised for her commitment to the programme and more especially for her guidance and care of the students as we faced a world pandemic.  She was left speechless when DG Gary presented her with a Paul Harris Fellow award.
L-R as pictured
Hosting Club
Eva Schnittger
Elise Dubuche
Luise Hochstetter
Tijn Eeden
The Netherlands
Clara Jensen
Waiheke Island
Isi Ravanal
Tuakau (leaving later in the year)
Matthias Lebreton
Drury (not pictured as Zoomed in due to illness)