Six local girls apply for Rotary Club's Youth Exchange program

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— Six local girls have aspirations of studying in places as far-flung as the Czech Republic, Spain, Chile, France and Thailand in the course of the next school year. Through the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club's Youth Exchange program, at least two of those girls are likely to get their wish.

Last year, no students applied for the Rotary Club's exchange program. If selected through a series of local and district interviews conducted this week, the Steamboat girls who expressed interest this year will stay with a host family in a country of their choice for about 10 months.

"We had this explosion of applicants this year," said Donna Weinman, the Youth Exchange chairwoman. "We've never sent more than two students, but this year we'll have to see."

The number of students sent out by the local Rotary district must be equal to the number sponsored, but local members said they would like to see as many students sent out as possible.

"It may be that we have to call our sister clubs in other towns in our district to take kids so we can send out as many as possible," Rotarian and local attorney Kris Hammond said. "I don't think it's been done, but we have to. If we have six highly qualified applicants, we're going to do everything we can to send them out."

Despite not sending any students abroad this year, Steamboat's club took in two exchange students - from Brazil and Belgium - for the current school year. The students pay their own airfare and incidentals, and the Rotary program provides monthly stipends of $100 to the student and $100 to the host families. The families take in students for three months at a time, and each student stays with three families during his or her stay.

"Even if the high school didn't have a limit (of three incoming students per year), we would still have a limit of three," said Winnie DelliQuadri, International Services Team Leader for the Steamboat Springs Rotary Club.

Two factors could have contributed to the increase in applications this year: positive reports from students who have spent a year abroad and returned to Steamboat, and the Interact Club, a Rotary-sponsored club at Steamboat Springs High School.

"Because we had two students who were outbound a year ago who are now back, we think that is maybe why we have so many girls applying this year," DelliQuadri said.

Hammond, who will be a member of the interview team, said the Interact Club also could have influenced the number of applicants by raising the profile of the exchange program in the high school.

"I think it brought the students to the same room who were interested in other cultures," he said.

Hammond, who was an exchange student to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1975 and 1976, said the experience was an important part of his life.

"It changed everything," he said. "It gave me a chance to travel all over the world."

Good candidates for the exchange program must be "curious, interested in other cultures, flexible and willing to try new things," Hammond said.

DelliQuadri said Steamboat students usually are reluctant to apply because they are busy with activities and events without the added pressure of missing a year of high school.

"We've always taken in more students than we've sent out," she said. "Because if you look at how busy kids are in Steamboat, not a lot of kids want to take a year off from high school to go somewhere else, unless they've talked to another student who has done it and thinks it is a worthwhile experience."

Weinman said the challenge of receiving credits at their home school also is an impediment to students applying, and students should study up on the local language before they spend their year abroad.

"If they work really hard before they go, they're not spending all year catching (up) on the language," Weinman said.

Steamboat's Rotary Club is in District 5440, which covers northern Colorado, eastern Nebraska, western Idaho and all of Wyoming. To be selected for the yearlong exchange, the six local students and their parents will be interviewed by a local committee first. From there, three or four selected students will advance to the district level.

Weinman said the exchange district sends between 25 and 30 students annually.

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