The International Youth Exchange Team piled into Bastrop Rotarian Sarah Brightwell’s new car and trekked to Tulsa for the annual South Central Rotary Youth Exchange Winter Conference.  Sarah and Jennifer Graham (Rotary Club of Temple) attended workshops and classes for two days while our Inbound Students enjoyed time with the 100 other international kids in our region.
The conference is an opportunity for the students to meet and socialize with their counterparts from around the world, while Rotarians become more familiar with changes in State Department rulings, the laws that govern student visas and ensuring that our paperwork and documentation in in order since we know we’ll be having an audit by the state department this year.
Jennifer will be attending the North American Youth Exchange Conference in Colorado in March and has been asked to present a session dealing with the difficult subject of managing the issues involved in sexual activity and sexual orientation/identity for exchange students.  This has become a worldwide concern, and our district has had some experience in working with students as both inbounds and outbounds who have struggled through their year abroad.  Rotary International has a No Dating rule that helps all of us to communicate the same message to students, enforce the same rules, and maintain the same expectations, but there have certainly been times when students eschew the rules and we are caught having to deal with the consequences.  We are also working hard to ensure that we are being mindful in our family placements so that both students and families have comfortable homes and no one is caught by surprise or uncomfortable with anyone’s sexual orientation.  Because we are dealing with teenagers, there’s always the chance for some level of drama, but our best practices can help mollify those ups and downs and allow the kids to have the adventure of a lifetime, and ensure host families have a new family member to love and cherish.
If clubs would like to have a program about youth exchange, please contact Jennifer Graham (, Sarah Brightwell (, or Patrick O’Farrell ( and we will coordinate a presentation to explain how exchange works, what the club commitment is, and how the district personnel can help make the exchange a positive experience.  We have been excited to welcome two new clubs to the exchange family this year.  The Rotary Club of MacGregor sent Hunter Kees to Germany for the year and has welcomed Francesca Martino from Italy into their town.  Francesca has lived in the middle of 100’s of acres of crops, is now residing in a historic home close to downtown and will be moving shortly to her final family who live on a farm.  The entire town of MacGregor has embraced her.  She’s playing volleyball and tennis at school, is best friends with her host sister, and loves her small town home.  The Waco Sunrise Rotary Club sent Kris Jones to northern Italy where he is attending culinary school and has welcomed Jakob Hoelterhoff from Germany.  Jakob is living with a non-Rotarian family in Belton and attending Belton High School.  This sort of an arrangement is a great example of how we can combine forces between clubs, communities and families to bring together an exchange.