Emily - D9465 Outbound Exchange to Belgium 2016

I've only just cracked the one month mark on my Rotary Youth Exchange journey to Belgium and I've already come to the conclusion that this program is the most beneficial thing I have ever participated in. Within a short month I have made a new family in my hosts, my rotary club and my school community. I was absolutely blessed with the most incredible host family, and have already found a second set of parents and siblings with them. They encourage me to explore Belgium and Europe within the gentle arms and guidelines of Rotary, helping me and pushing me toward creating the most memorable and magical exchange experience. In living amongst the family you are able to fully experience the everyday lifestyle of a unique culture, and build relationships so much stronger than I could have ever imagined (especially within a mere month). It gives you a first hand insight into understanding what it means to live in that country, as a member of that country- complete submersion into a different part of the world. Having host siblings has also been a blessing that I never realised I needed. They add an additional level of comfort and familiarity, and with one of my siblings being similar in age to me, give me an insight into what being Belgian means to youth and teens. They continuously bring more energy into my exchange and strongly inspire my desire to understand and learn the language, because I don't want to miss out on any element of their lives while I'm here with them.

In participating in exchange through Rotary it offers an additional level of support. Both my sponsor club and host club have been incredible in driving the first month of my exchange year; organising events, welcoming me warmly and being open arms whenever I needed any assistance. I have an avenue to learn in great depth the business side of Belgium in being introduced to many kind and wonderful individuals working in multiple industries. The fellow exchange students have also been incredible in helping me establish a level of comfort in a new country. With those 6 months into their exchange openly offering words of encouragement and advice. As well as the fellow 'Newies' that often mirror the emotions I am experiencing myself. The Rotary club also are incredibly welcoming of my culture and give me open opportunities to discuss my country and my nationality. They're some of the most accepting people I have ever met and continuously open themselves to new ways of seeing the world through the eyes of their exchange students. Willingly learning and discussing what life is like in a different part of the globe.

The school environment I have been placed into, is also one that has provided much support and order for me during the first stage of my exchange. The staff and students have shown great patience in the face of language barriers, fatigue and my own frustration. They have all been extremely kind and encouraging- providing me with methods to improve my French, constant reassurance that learning the language will be worth every frustration and most importantly just general support and kindness to help me settle into a completely new environment. It's incredible how small the language barrier seems when I'm around many of the students, just due to how completely at home they are able to make me feel. I am also lucky in that I attend a special French school on Monday and Tuesday with fellow migrants, many of which being refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. My French is definitely improving with this class assistance, but most importantly so is my entire outlook on international relations. To be in conversation with people who have fled their homes is so completely different to watching a documentary in school or hearing politicians on television. These individuals are honestly some of the kindest people I have ever met, all of which with bigger hearts than most- establishing my belief that if every Australian had the chance to go on Rotary Exchange and sit in that language classroom, the world and the Australian treatment of refugees and asylum seekers would be entirely different.

This first month of my exchange has been incredible. I have already seen so much through both Rotary and just general travel with my host family. The majority of the time I have been so completely happy in my new home with my second parents and siblings, and unbelievably comfortable with life in a new country. However I would be lying to you if I said that I haven't already faced some minor challenges. Homesickness is a real thing, far more real than I had ever realised. I find it in simple things such as missing my parents hugs, the feel of my pillow or being able to ask mum if the pavlova is ready. But despite its realness and how hard it can hit some days, it's not incurable. The days when homesickness clouds my joy are the days my relationship with my host family really shine- with my beautiful host Mum continuously there for a friendly hug, some words of wisdom and just simple loving gestures that remind me that I have two homes now. The language can also be incredibly difficult and often very draining. The continuous need to concentrate can be extremely overwhelming and confusing and VERY frustrating, but it makes the moments of conversation ever more special. Even in such a short period of time I can already see myself improving slowly but surely, and I have confidence that with the support of my family, rotary and school, the language will definitely come.

Exchange has opened so many exciting opportunities for me both within and outside of Belgium. My host family are planning on taking me to London, Barcelona and Venice within the next few months and Rotary have given myself and other exchange students the chance to explore Greece in two weeks time. All of which I am greatly looking forward to. Displaying yet another example of how Rotary Youth Exchange opens up their students to the wider world.

I have only been a participant in the program for one month and I have already learned and experienced so much. I have established relationships that I am sure will continue even after my return, and have made friends with some of the kindest people I've ever met. Exchange is a learning journey and I am learning more and more every single day and I am eternally grateful to Rotary International for such a life changing opportunity. I already feel like a changed person, and I am endlessly excited for the next 11 months of my exchange adventure.

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