Record Number of Northfield Students Will Study Abroad Next Year Through Rotary Exchange Program


In the 2010-11 school year, 16 recently graduated high school students from the Northfield area will be traveling abroad through the Rotary Club's Youth Exchange Program.  This is the largest number of participating students from Northfield ever, an increase of six students from last year's record ten students, which Rotary Youth Officer Vicki Dilley attributes in part to parents and students becoming more open-minded about taking a "gap year" before going on to college.  In addition, there will be five exchange students living with host families in Northfield next year, hailing from France, Germany, Denmark, Spain and Brazil.  The sixteen Northfield students will be traveling to a wide variety of countries, including Thailand, Denmark, Sweden, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia. 

The Rotary Youth Exchange program began in Minnesota in the 1960s.  Minnesota Rotary Clubs, of which there are about 130, exchange students with almost thirty different countries.  Northfield also works with two other districts, and Ms. Dilley said that this region of Minnesota, particularly Northfield, has an unusually "strong, healthy focus on youth exchange."

Northfield, Dilley says, is "so supportive."  Ms. Dilley says that the "life blood" of the program are the generous host families.  Each foreign exchange student in Northfield lives with three families during their stay, so this year, Ms. Dilley had to find fifteen families willing to host students.  As of this morning, she was only in need of two more host families.  Dilley said that the increasing success of the program also can be attributed to the high level of support and involvement from Northfield high school's current administration and guidance counselors. 

Students attend school while they study abroad, and while most attend traditional educational institutions, a few students in recent years have had less conventional experiences.  One Northfield student studied in Japan, where he attended a fishing school, where he learned all the technical skills of catching and preparing fish, as well as some of the politics and economics of the fishing industry.  Another student spent a year studying in India at a school devoted to the practice of yoga.

Dilley also shared a touching story demonstrating the long-lasting impact that exchange programs can have on students.  Next year, a student from Brazil will be staying in Northfield.  This young man's father, Juan, was also an exchange student to the United States in 1974, and his family hosted a student from Minnesota in 1979. Juan had lost track of the girl who lived with his family, and could remember only her first name and the town she was from, St. Charles.  Juan contacted Dilley to ask if there was any way of tracking down the young woman who had lived with his family.  After an extensive search, Dilley was able to help Juan and his family's former exchange student reconnect.  The woman said she had sent Juan a letter which never reached him, but that there "wasn't a day that went by when she didn't think of him and his family." 

Dilley says one of the most valuable lessons students learn is finding that "your heart can be in two very different places.  I tell kids, you'll become more than just a Northfield citizen, you'll become a world citizen."