GOING ON A LONG TERM EXCHANGE WITH ROTARY.


I have read a lot of things about Rotary International in the net, part of which were not even true and I'd like to shed some light to the topic. First of all, one of the things that come to my mind is: inexpensive. It really is, it is not even comparable to other companies like EF, CIEE, WEP, etc, when it comes to the price. And no, you don't have to be a member of Rotary to be eligible to go on an exchange through it. 

Not Only A Student.

When you agree to go on an exchange with Rotary, you are not treated only as a student, you are much more than that. You are also an Ambassador for your own country. The way you behave, approach people and engage with your community brings your home and host countries together. You might be thinking that this isn't really specific to Rotary, but it really is. When you go abroad through the Youth Exchange Program, you wear a Blazer to meetings, but you will also be assigned a meeting during which you will have to talk about your home country (culture, traditions, food, where you come from, what is there to see and do, what it is famous for, etc). In addition, by the end of the year, you will attend the District Conference, which normally begins with foreign students waving their flags and ends with them singing a special song altogether (this might be specific to D5440).

You Will Be Involved In The Community.

I've heard of students with other organizations complaining about the fact that they wouldn't meet other foreign exchange students or that they wouldn't really be involved in their host community, which is a bummer. Rotary organizes a bunch of events for exchange students to attend, but also local meetings that the students are welcome to participate in. Meetings normally include a meal, which means that you get to sit at a table with other people, get to know them and listen to the speaker of the day. At your first meeting you will be introduced, most likely by your host family, and then you will be able to say a couple of things. I'd suggest repeating your name, where you are from, but also to mention that you are open to anything - helping out, volunteering, activities - so that you will be able to meet people of all ages even outside of school.

Foreign Exchange Students And Rotex.

One of the blessings of my exchange was meeting other foreign students. A lot of people tell you not to hang out only with foreigners to avoid being or feeling alone, but with Rotary it's different because the students are normally put in different schools anyway and they hang out after school or during the weekend. They are like my second family, I love them dearly. Rotary organized many - free of charge - trips for us, like our weekend in Steamboat Springs in Colorado. We were able to ski one day and to go to hot springs the following morning. Rotex is normally composed of local former exchange students, but you might get the chance to meet future outbounds as well.


Travel.

With Rotary you get the opportunity to travel. All the money that you saved up by going on exchange with this particular program (I spent 1/3 of what my friend spent to go abroad with CIEE, for example) you can spend it on travels. Rotary and Belo USA offer trips to Hawaii, East Coast, and West Coast. I've had the amazing opportunity to go to New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC where I literally met other 80 exchange students from all over the world. In fact, there I met for the first time someone from Kazakstan and South Korea! Up to date though, my trip to  California is the best I've ever been on.

The Youth Committee Is Composed Of Volunteers.

Normally this means one thing: they truly believe in the program and in what it is all about. They all have other jobs they work hard for, but on top of it, they are also members of the committee. They gave us rides, they hosted us and our friends and they listened (most of the times) to our demands.

This program might not be for everyone. In fact, one of the conditions is that the student will have to have at least two host families, and, at first, having to go to meetings might be intimidating, but I ensure you that they do this so that we can have the best exchange experience ever. One of the reasons why families are changed throughout the year is that every family lives in a different way and living with only one doesn't necessarily show you how a typical family in your host country lives. And the list goes on, and on, but I hope that this helped any prospective exchange student to choose the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. A lot of things may be different from district to district, and I obviously can't say much about other organizations either because I did not go abroad with them, but again, everything I mentioned is based upon real experiences.

- Cris

LONDON, LONDRES, LONDRA.


I'm sure that the title doesn't need explaining: today I will be talking about London. The first time that I went to the Capital city of the United Kingdom... I wasn't impressed. Wait, let me explain. I surely loved it, no question that it is a pretty looking city, but literally everyone I talked to promised me that I'd have loved it right away and so I had so many high expectations. One of the reasons why I guess I didn't completely fall in love with it (yet) was because I only spent one day there. At the time, I was living in the UK and I had the opportunity to go there basically for free

Magic words for a broke college student: free opportunity, and London.



Obviously, one day in London is not enough, but I made it work. The coach dropped me off at the Victoria Museum and from there I decided that I'd sightsee by foot. It was October 31st, so my first stop was Notting Hill, which was fun because all the pretty fancy houses were decorated for Halloween. Then Holland Park, Hyde Park, Marble Arch, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, London Eye, Soho, Oxford Street, and Camden Town. 

I. Am. Not. Even. Kidding.

All of that in approximately six hours. I'm pretty sure that by six o'clock at night if I didn't stop walking, my feet would have fallen off my body and I'd have had to crawl to see more. By then, I was happy but exhausted and so I crashed at Euston Station, where I'd have taken the train back to Worcester. One of the things that amazed me about the trip was that the weather was actually pretty good. It was in autumn and it didn't even rain a little bit. One of the things that instead disappointed me was the Big Ben. It took me a while to even realize that I was looking at it, because it is under construction at the moment, until something like 2021. I understand that it isn't anyone's fault, but I was looking forward to seeing one of the most iconic buildings in London.

As I said, London in one day is not enough. I was still missing places like... the Tower Bridge. Like, c'mon, you can't leave London without seeing it. But it was just too far away and since I was there for a few hours I decided to explore only one area of the city. Which is why... I went back to London. I took the train from Worcester in the morning and I arrived at Paddington Station. Just like the first time, I only had six hours to walk around because at night I had to fly back to Milan. This time it was harder to walk because I had a huge backpack on my shoulders and it was also pretty warm given the fact that it was June, but at least I wasn't alone. My friend came with me. We met at Neal's Yard (which is a colorful hidden gem) and from there we went to the Courtauld Institute of Art, followed by the St. Paul's Cathedral. We crossed the Millennium Bridge, we reached the other side of the Thames and the view was just so beautiful. A street artist was also playing "Fix You" by Coldplay with his guitar and, suddenly, everything became even more interesting. I definitely felt like if I was in a movie. We continued on along the Thames and reached the Tower Bridge. Once we crossed it, we went to the Sky Garden where you can see the whole city from above... for free. Walked through the Leadenhall Markets, where we spotted an Asian Couple getting their wedding pictures taken, and then I was headed to Liverpool Street Station.


Things To Keep In Mind.
Visiting London can be expensive, but it doesn't have to be. Thankfully, throughout England, you can find meal deals for less than £4. After a sandwich, some chips and a drink you may not be full but you will definitely feel much better and able to continue your journey. You don't necessarily have to go to a restaurant for every meal - unless you want to and have the money for it.
As I said, accessing Sky Garden is completely free. Although, you need to book it at least one week in advance. They only allow a certain amount of people inside per day and you want to make sure you don't miss out!


Obviously, if you are in London for a few days and want to see as much as you can, I suggest to get a travel pass or something like that, but consider also to visit the city by foot. It's a great way to find hidden gems, you will save money and will definitely work out in the meantime as well. Your Fitbit will log something like 20/30km, that's for sure.
Finding a bathroom is always a challenge for me when I travel because most of the times you have to pay for it, but in London, I just went to Mc Donald's. Sometimes you have got to have a receipt that shows that you are a client in order to use the restroom, but if you are lucky they don't check. It's worth to try. Also, if you go inside stores to shop and ask for a restroom they are usually chill about it and guide you to it.

If you have some questions, drop them in the comments below and I will try to be as helpful as possible!


- Cris

PLACES TO CALL HOME.

Five years ago I decided to be an exchange student. The only place that I’d call home, back then, was Milan. This week I will be visiting four places that in the past four years I’ve called home. 

I will be leaving the United States to go back to Milan and see my family. From there, I will be going to Denmark, which is where I spent my first year of college, and last but not least, I will be visiting the UK - which is the place where I did my Erasmus exchange and would love to go back to. 


It’s unbelievable how much I’ve changed in five years. I’m more confident, I know more languages, I’ve friends all over the world, I care less about what people have to say about me, I’m very determined to achieve my goals. It’s always easy for other people to be jealous of me when they see my Instagram feed, because they don’t know how it’s like to work hard to obtain something. It almost comes as a surprise the fact that I travel so much. Traveling taught me lots of things, and, because of that, I’m definitely more mature than other kids my age. I think carefully on how to spend my money and always try my best to think about consequences when taking actions. I’ve had a few moments when I questioned my decision of going abroad. I felt lonely sometimes, I felt like I wasn’t doing the right thing. I worked in a dusty warehouse and had the weirdest shifts, I’ve worked 32 hours the week before Christmas with finals coming up and goodbyes to be said. 

But all these experiences made me the person I am today. Five years ago I’d have never thought my life could turn around like this. I was an average teenager, stressed out with the Italian school system, with a barely understandable English, average grades and no motivation do to anything - until I signed the papers that changed my life forever. I’m totally the opposite nowadays. I can’t settle for something I’m not satisfied with. I want to do what I want to do and I am always hungry for more. There’s no stop sign along my path. Everything happens for a reason, I do believe so, but we also have to help destiny a little bit. We can’t just sit around and wait for things to happen. We can’t be jealous of someone else’s path because I haven’t walked it. We don’t know the obstacles they had to overcome to get where they are now. My advice is - get inspired by other people, do not try to walk their path or to tear them down. You do you and you will do just fine.

- Cris

EXCHANGE YEAR: EXPECTATIONS AND REALITY.


Before going on exchange everyone hopes for the best, but how can we really define what best is? Well, I was hoping to go on exchange somewhere close to a big city, just because I grew up in one. Although, I would have been okay living in a smaller place than my own because when I decided to go abroad I also agreed to be flexible and embrace diversity rather than familiarity.

My kind of expectations.

My first desire was to be placed somewhere near New York because it has always been my dream city. I've seen it in movies, all over the internet, in paintings and what not. I was (and still am) a bit obsessed with it. I'd have loved to be placed in a big house, like one of the movies, with lots of neighbors and a welcoming family. I was dreaming of soft white snow falling throughout Christmas break and lights all over the neighborhood. The school I was hoping for was quite big, with a strong consideration for the Arts, High School Musical type of institution basically and nice school bus rides to go on. I was wishing to be able to be in a place with at least a minor transportation system because my independence wasn’t really something I was ready to give up.


What my exchange was actually like.

To start off, I was placed in Colorado which is great because, eventually, it was one of my choices. I lived one hour away from Denver, which is a big city. However, I only went there maybe three times because public transportation here in the West is pretty much inexistent. I loved my home and the people I lived with, which is eventually what every exchange student hopes for. The town was actually quite boring, and even in the city itself, there was little public transportation. I had to rely on others to get to places, which was quite annoying. I was independent for a lot of things but dependent for a few as well. My school was pretty small too, I believe my senior class was composed of less than one hundred students. The arts had their weight but the auditorium was quite small and so was the number of people interested in supporting the plays and shows. 
I did have snow on Christmas day, which was fantastic. Every day during winter break it felt like Christmas because the atmosphere was amazing. I went to Christmas concerts, shows, parties and I was surrounded by lights everywhere I went. We exchanged gifts, watched movies next to the fireplace and had one of the previous exchange students come to visit us.

Deliberation post exchange.

Was my exchange the way I thought it would be? Not entirely. Was it bad? Nope. I think it is understandable that people imagine things before they actually become reality, but I think that it’s safe to say that we need to keep expectations as low as possible so that we don't get disappointed. According to me, our exchange has to be different to whatever we had in mind anyway. It’s more fun. Think about it, would it be really great to know in advance what your experience would be like? There would be no fun because there wouldn't be any discovery to make. Prior to departure, we (might) feel scared, sad, confused. We don't know where we are going, who we are going to live with, we don't know if we will have friends and things to do after school and so on; We are not going to see our family and friends for almost a year. We are going to change and grow without the people who have always been by our side; We basically don't know what we signed up for. Yes, we are going to study abroad, but did we really think about every single aspect of the deal?

This is why I think that exchange students are brave, interesting and open-minded.

- Cris

WHY EXCHANGE RUINED MY LIFE AND WHY I LOVE IT.


I feel extremely grateful because I am writing this blog-post at my American home. It has been three years since the end of my exchange and being back is honestly still quite weird and unbelievable. At the beginning of my new experience here, I was complaining about the fact that it doesn't feel like exchange at all. The reason behind this is that it is not an exchange, and nothing will ever be like it. However, this past weekend I had the opportunity to attend the District Conference in Estes Park, Colorado where I hung out with inbounds and Rotex. That was all I wanted to do: being in Colorado and around people from all over the world, once again. It totally felt like nothing changed since 2015.

Despite that, this conference opened up wounds that were never closed in the first place. As I was performing "Love in Any Language", my mind was traveling back to the 2015 Conference in Fort Collins, when I was on stage with my group of friends. The song makes me quite emotional and so you might think that this is why my mind was playing with my feelings, but actually, even doing something as simple as going to the pool or the hot tub with the current exchange students would bring me back to the good old days... I wouldn't change anything about my exchange but if I could go back in time I'd definitely do two things: treat people differently and say "thank you" more often.


Exchange is a fixed period of time during which every single one of us starts from scratch. The only problem is that this awesome experience has an end, just like everything in life, and this is definitely what ruined me. It is difficult for me to acknowledge closure and accept when something is officially over. I might be having the best time and enjoying myself but as soon as that comes to completion, I blast into tears. I get so sad to the point that I wonder whether it was worth it or not. And of course it was. Not just good enough, but beyond excellent.

People might not imagine this because I'm a big guy, but I'm quite sensitive. I detest goodbyes, but that never stopped me from traveling. I'm so grateful to have people in my life that make saying goodbye so hard, and I love Rotary International with whole my heart because I met those people as a result of being part of the Youth Exchange Program. My exchange year might be over, but because of Rotary, I continue to meet incredible people

- Cris