Our July 19th meeting was reserved fro the farewell speech of our inbound student Ilona. 
Going on exchange...well I think it's a funny way to describe this experience. Firstly, because we don't exchange. I'm not taking the life of anybody and nobody is taking mine...I'd rather say "going on a big change"! And secondly, it's such a simple word for such a big experience of life.
So, who could imagine that? The little Ilona so close to her family, especially her mom, would want to go away during 11 months. I think if you would have told me that years ago, I would not have believed you! I guess it was a surprise for everybody!
You maybe wanna know why all these kids want to take this big risk. I might not have the right answer but at least you have my version of the story. Former exchange students or Rotarians would tell you that it's the chance of your life. That you're gonna get more mature and independent. That you're gonna make new friendships with other people and that you're gonna learn a new culture. And that is true. It's what you hear and it's what makes you wanna go on "exchange" and I guess that's the easiest way to explain what it is and it's fine but actually, it's so much more. 
You cry so much leaving your family and going in another country where you barely know the language and the people who're gonna host you.  Some people call that "courage", I just call it "motivation". There starts the adventure... The first couple of months, it was tough.. I had to push myself, to surpass myself in an unknown environment. I have a funny little example: I started band class and I was so scared! In Belgium, I used to play by myself with a teacher and her I had to play with tons of instruments and people and I was stressed to mess up everything so the first day of band class, I sat on my chair and didn't do anything. Then I came home and I took a look at myself and I found myself ridiculous. I had to push myself to play the next day because no parents were there to tell me that everything was going to be ok. And I actually saw the first challenge of an "exchange" PUSHING YOURSELF AND YOUR BOUNDARIES! 
I had to persevere over and over either to make friends at school and (heck ya, it's not that easy) or to fir in the family (at least, to do my best to understand their way of living and their expectations) and also with my English. As a result, I got way more patience! I understood that even if you give the best of yourself, everything doesn't come as fast as we want it to. In another hand, I became less patient for stuff that I  should have given up a long time ago (change friends as soon as I feel uncomfortable, following my values and not be patient when people don't respect me or at least the way I want to be respected). 
This experience also made me wiser. I feel like I look at situations with another way of thinking. All the things which had so much importance in the past, in my Belgian life, now seem so meaningless. Today, it's not the marks that you have at school or the fact that your job is taking all your time or that your friends have disappointed you which are the most important but rather the fact of how you can change it and how when you look at other people's life, your is actually not that bad. 
My independence has changed as well. In Belgium, my independence was how to organize myself to study for school or for my hobbies or to help my mom cook or cleaning the house maybe just take the train to visit my friends or to work (of course I did a little bit more but it's in general) but here, I had to take real responsibilities for myself. I had to make choices by myself. By living in another country, with other people from another culture, I became more aware of disparity between each of us and I learned so much, I leaned so many things.  
Firstly, I learn from other people (anecdotes, cultural things, way of thinking...) but eventually, I also learn so much about myself. When you live at the same place for all your life, in the same comfort zone, you just assume that the way of behaving is just the only one that you have because you're interacting with pretty much the same people, you're dealing with pretty much the same troubles (at least when you are 17) and the same culture. But actually, when you leave this whole bubble and you change your environment you discover a new aspect of your personality. Sometimes it's not always good. You realize that maybe you're not as sociable as you thought or as smart and sometimes you're just really surprised by how your character can be really strong. 
I have a few points left...and then I promise, I'll stop talking.
I should talk now about my confidence. I think it's the one I'm most proud of. Even if in my old life I always loved giving speeches and talking to people even meeting new people or performing drama plays, I wasn't confident. Not really sure of myself, not really proud of myself, didn't really know what I was capable of. Here, I had no choice. I had to prove and to show by myself who I am. Nobody could talk to you about me because it was me and my poor English and my non-confidence to make you guys know me or discover in one year the best person that I wanted to be. This confidence allowed me to meet people and to know them more. I'm so blessed for all the people that I have met. You guys were so different. Each of you brought something in my life and I'll remember that forever.
So thank you for giving me the chance to do it. Thank you for giving all the love that I have received. Few of you guys actually said the word but I can feel that love is not about one word but how you act and I can also feel that there is so much love around here. 
The last one but not the least is how you realize that your family and friends and way of life and country are actually really good. And how you should enjoy every single moment even of it's to watch tv with your parents or going for lunch every Sunday at your grandma's. At that time, it felt so annoying and useless but everybody knows... you always miss things when you don't have them anymore.
Thank you again. Each of you is incredible and I'm gonna remember all of you forever and I can say that my exchange in Canada is actually my life with my Canadian family and my Canadian friends. By the way, I consider you as my family of course.
Someone told me one day "With this Rotary Club, you now have 30 uncles and aunties". This person was right.... An exchange is not a year in a life but a life in a year!!