• Antoine Vandael.

Antoine, loving his time on the Shore

By Antoine Vandael, Rotary Youth Exchange Student from Belgium. Antoine attends Westlake Boys High School

Rotary International Youth Exchange is one of the oldest and most recognised Exchange Programmes in the world. Students have the opportunity to spend a year living overseas where they attend school and live with host families. This year we have sent nine well-motivated students to Europe. We currently have applications open for our Class of 2019 so if you know a student who would love to spend a year abroad learning a new language and teaching others our culture we’d love to have them apply. Applications are open until 8th April for more info please visit www.rotaryyouthexchange.co.nz

Before I arrived in New Zealand, a Belgian Rotarian asked the outgoing exchange students “what was Rotary?”

Our answer: An organisation who helps students from a country to go abroad for a year.

This Rotarian was taken aback when he heard our answer. 

Blindsided, he told us that Rotary was not a travel agency but a global network of supportive decision-makers who put their skills to the service of the most pressing humanitarian causes.

Seriously, for me, Rotary was still a travel agency.

I have been in New Zealand for a little more than 200 days and I have lived incredible experiences that only exchange students can understand. In a year, I had to rebuild a life that I took 18 years to build. Adapt to four different host families, make new friends, go to a new school and learn a new language. After five months I am proud to say I have achieved those four points and integrated myself as a Kiwi. I am now definitely part of the New-Zealand landscape and I don’t consider myself as a tourist anymore. 

 I do not really have the space to describe this exceptional year, and anyway, I do not think I can find the words to describe it. So I'm going to be short.

For me, Rotary is still a travel agency.

But that's only a tiny part of what Rotary does.

I will not tell you about all the causes in which Rotarians are engaged because I would not do it justice.

All I can tell you is that Rotary made me grow. Not physically, of course, but mentally. Thanks to this year of challenges, I found myself more mature than I have ever been and with a more open mind.

I left Belgium as a teenager and I am sure now, I will return as an adult.