Coming Home to A Foreign Country
A year of lifetime memories

Imagine you are a 17 year old girl from Bucks County who just arrived in Patagonia, Chile (about as close as you can get to Antarctica without being there) after a grueling thirty-hour flight. Armed with a Spanish vocabulary of about ten words, you meet your new Chilean host family whose English vocabulary is as paltry. Fortunately for Sarah Huskin, then a Rotary Youth Exchange Student (YES), the two hour ride to her new home was made easy, as her new Chilean sisters sang "Don't worry, be happy!" at the top of their lungs. Today Sarah teaches Spanish in Council Rock North High School (CRN) and is an adviser to YES students.Image

Interviewing former and current Rotary YES students and host families for this article was an eye opener. Yes, there had been trepidation, communication problems, home sickness and adjustment to new customs, languages and food. Nevertheless, the love, shared experiences, incredible personal growth and friendships that last a lifetime resonate through every story. Leigh Brownell (2010-2011 "Outbound" student" to Spain) sums it well: "I honestly believe that everyone should have a study abroad experience; it is so humbling and so eye opening. I can now say that I have a whole new family in Spain, including my 101 year old bisabuela (great grandmother)!"

Mark Craig, a Rotarian who headed the activity for the Newtown Rotary Club (The Club) for five years, explains: "Leading the YES Program meant a great deal to me and continues to mean a lot to The Club. We hosteImaged the first exchange student at CRN high school following the split of the two high schools. CRN embraced the program which, over time, introduced students from countries like Romania, Taiwan, Thailand and France to CRN students while sending local students to Spain, Austria, Peru, Latvia and others. Through the program, the entire Newtown community helped to exemplify the Youth Exchange motto: "Changing the World-One Student at a Time."

Gadi Naaman, another Rotarian for many years, noted that "It has been a gratifying experience to watch these young kids arrive for their Senior or Junior year in high school. Some are shy, barely speaking the language and a year later, their English is fluent and laced with idioms and there's a "bounce in their step." Their enthusiasm and our ability to see things fresh through their eyes, makes our involvement with the program worthwhile. They energize us."

Hosting an exchange student can be an incredibly rewarding experience for your family, providing an international experience without leaving home. Host families provide room and board and share their lives with exchange students, involving them in family, community, and cultural activities.

Sarah Huskin described the approval process in place for accepting host families:" Our process is a three stage interview process by the YEO, Club and District. The district level is then split into three separate interviews, Rotarians, YES committee members and ultimately, ROTEX (Rotary Exchange). The Hosting process is very much a volunteer process. When a family expresses interest, we screen them, provide training and match them with a compatible student. "

In fact, the Newtown Rotary Club experience has been so positive in recent years, that this year, The Club took in two students; Ada from Venezuela and Yago from Spain. Fortunately, both spoke English with ease upon arrival and immediately started making friends and became involved in many CRN activities: Choir, Tennis, Interact Club and more. In addition to activities with their peers in Council Rock North, they go to outings with other YES students who are hosted by other Rotary Clubs in the District (Bucks and Montgomery counties).

Among those activities are ski trips to the Poconos, New York City, Philadelphia historic sites, Washington DC, Phillies Baseball and more. Those activities serve to acquaint them with our way of life and also to form a bond among students of many nationalities so they can "change the world -One student at a time." Image

The same is true for "outbound" students who live in other countries. Kate Prell, last year's exchange student to Peru, reported: "I attended weekly Rotary meetings along with the other 38 exchange students in my city. Each one of us, from 10 different countries, became a family and supported each other through the language difficulties, host family problems and troubles back home. Rotary made it easy for all of us to get together by organizing various trips around Peru and even to Chile and Ecuador. Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of my year was making it to the top of Machu Picchu with my 38 best friends." 

The host families are just as enamored with their new sons and daughters. Mike Charlton, a Newtown Businessman, and his wife Jenni have five daughters. He wrote:"Our daughter, Erin, approached us to host Ada. To be honest, I was not so sure. All I could envision was the potential problems; a home-sick kid, or worse yet a "party animal". I am glad my wife and daughter prevailed."

"When Rick brought Ada over for an initial visit, her bubbly and engaging personality shined through immediately. She has made herself at home at once, like she has always been there. Ada loves to cook and we have enjoyed many fine dinners she prepared. She is part of our family now and makes her family, country, and the Exchange program proud. It has been our pleasure to be her host family. We love her!"

"The USA was my first choice and (The Newtown Rotary) is the best club that I could have asked for," explained Ada (from Venezuela). ''The Bunkes, who were my first host family, were awesome and took me to many places and I am having a great experience with the Charlton family, as well. " 

"In six months, I have acquired three moms, three dads, seven sisters and three more dogs and cats. I have also become involved with many CRN clubs, doing what I love and learning every step of the way. I saw snow for the first time in my life and I am so glad that I was able to share that experience with the wonderful people I have met here!" Image

Yago, who hails from Spain, was not new to the YES. "I've been part of a host family in Spain, and the first day here, it was so weird to be the foreign guy sleeping for 15 hours because of the jet lag; just like the American boy who spent a year at my house did. Hosting a YES student was an awesome experience. I learnt so much from my American brother, and it was 3 years ago that he was in my house, but we keep in touch and he's like a real brother to me."

Yago’s Host Mom, Karen Robins, wrote:” Before Yago arrived, we were definitely excited and apprehensive.  Our son is younger, only 8 years old, so we worried about the age difference.  Yago has been with our family now, since early January and the experience so far has surprised us in dozens of ways. First, the time-juggle I was worried about has been easy and the support from the Rotary Club members and from Sarah Huskin is incredible.  They help with carpooling, keeping me informed about homework (and snow days) and sometimes just offering an ear when we're just not sure how to handle something that comes up. 

ImageNearly every day, I think about Yago's mom and dad back in Spain.  To put their son on a plane, send him to a foreign country to live with strangers for twelve months takes courage, trust and enormous faith. I'm not sure I could do it.   But, when talking to Yago about his experiences so far and when thinking about the ways this experience has been good for our family, I realize that these exchange programs really are wonderful.”

According to the Rotary International web site (, the Youth Exchange is a study-abroad opportunity for young people who spend anywhere from a few weeks to a full year as an international student hosted by local Rotary clubs. Exchanges are for people ages 15-19 who:

• Have demonstrated leadership in their school and community

• Are flexible and willing to try new things

• Are open to cultural differences

• Can serve as an ambassador for their own country

Costs vary from country to country. Local Rotary clubs generously host students and provide room and board with a host family and a small monthly stipend. Participants are generally responsible for:

• Round-trip airfare

• Insurance

• Travel documents (such as passports and visas)

• Spending money, additional travel, and tour fees

Anyone in the Council Rock North School District who is interested in learning more about being a host family, or becoming an exchange student, should contact Rick Rogers at the Newtown Rotary Club (215-579-6013215-579-6013) or email to: to learn more about the types of programs offered, and the specific application process required. Because the selection and orientation process can be lengthy, we suggest you apply 6-12 months ahead of time.

To quote Leigh Bronwell: "My advice to those considering hosting a student or considering partaking in the program would be to look at it in a long term sense. I have won various awards, started different international efforts, been accepted to various colleges and had multiple job offers because of my time abroad and what I learned as well as what my host family taught me. I cherish the Muiña-Palazón family for having given me that opportunity."

The Newtown Rotary Club, founded in 1953, has served the local and international communities for over 60 years. The Club meets at The Brick Hotel, 1 Washington Avenue, Newtown, PA. All meetings are Wednesday luncheons from 12:15 to 1:30 pm. For additional information visit the web site or "like" us on Face Book.

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