MICHELLE MILLER

STAFF WRITER

Some area students have just recently packed their bags to go experience life in another country, while others are expected to begin their journey sometime this month.

Students between the ages of 15 and 18 are given the opportunity to study abroad through the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. The program is open to children of Rotarians and non-Rotarians who are in high school or who have just graduated.

According to rotary-youthexchange. com, students live overseas with one to four host families, attend a local school,  and immerse in a “totally newculture.’’ The website says more than 8,000 high school students participate in the Rotary Youth Exchange program  worldwide. There will beeight outgoing students from Cooperstown participating in the program this year.

One of those outgoing students is Laura Harmon, who left for Zug, Switzerland, on Sunday.

“It will start what will be the  most amazing experience ofmy life,’ she wrote in an email before leaving.

“I had always thought the exchange program was interesting, but it wasn’t until the summer before my senior year of high school that I decided I definitely wanted to apply,” she added.

Harmon said there was not any one reason why she wanted to become an exchange student. She said she is looking forward to being surrounded by a new and different culture. “This opportunity is something that I can’t imagine not participating in,” Harmon said. “And more than anything, I am excited.”

Harmon said she doesn’t really have any fears about going overseas, but feels apprehension  for speaking and understandinga new language.

“In high school I only took Spanish, and starting soon, I will be speaking German or Swiss German,” she said.

“It will be new and challenging, but I knew that when I applied for Rotary. And that is what makes it all that more exciting.”

Being able to get out and see other parts of the world is great, Harmon said. She said she plans to attend college in the fall of 2012, but she is not sure where yet. However, she said she knows she wants to enter the healthcare field.

According to its website, the Rotary Youth Exchange District 7170 exchanges with 20 countries: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Chilie, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Taiwan and Thailand.

Students do not always get to go visit the country on top of their list. According to the website, there are a limited number of exchanges available with each country, and the goal is not to overload  any country in either direction,inbound or outbound.

Exchange students are asked to select three preferred countries, and are allowed to refuse any countries that he or she would not accept an assignment to. The majority of students will get one of their three choices.

Robbie Katz left for Brazil last week. He said he chose to be an exchange student because he enjoys traveling, experiencing new cultures and meeting new people.

He said he has traveled to Canada, Ecuador and Italy and has wanted to become a Rotary exchange student for years.

“I hope I get a good grip on Portuguese, and to make many new friends and connections. I also hope to do a lot of travelling,” he wrote in an email before leaving.

Katz said some of his biggest fears include struggling with the language barrier, having an unenjoyable host family, contracting malaria,  getting torn to pieces by piranhasand being swallowed by an anaconda in the Amazon.

According to Katz, he has left his family before for a long stretch of time. He said he worked in a fossil quarry in Wyoming last summer, which made him become independent for five weeks.

Katz said he will be sending out monthly emails. If anyone would like to join his email list notify him at Robert.samuel. katz@gmail.com.

Ann Cannon will be headed to Bratislava, Slovakia on Aug. 27. She said she family has  hosted exchange studentsbefore and seeing how they make the best out of every situation and learning so much has opened her eyes to the possibility of taking on the challenge  herself.Cannon said she hopes to learn everything she possibly can while overseas. “I want to make memories and friendships that will last forever; and eventually master the Slovak language,” she wrote in an email.

According to Cannon, Slovak is rather difficult to learn on one’s own and there are not that many books and software available for learning the language. She said she will be living in the capital city where she heard many residents speak English.

“I am told this makes learning Slovak that much more difficult because people will want to practice their English,” she said.

Cannon said traveling outside the U.S. is not something new to her. She said she has  traveled to Italy twice and toFrance. However, she said the longest she has ever been away from her family is a week.

“I am really excited and cannot wait to get in that plane and start my exchange,” Cannon said.

Her plans after her journey, is to attend American University in Washington, D.C. with an indented major in art history.

THESE THREE exchange students have agreed to write monthly columns for the Crier. The columns will start appearing soon. If there are any other exchange students wanting to share their experiences with the local community contact, Michelle Miller at mmiller@coopercrier.com.

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