District 9910 had five students who all stayed overseas for their exchange year and are now back safe and sound.  Thanks to COVID 19 the students all experienced life in their host countries in different ways than they could ever have predicted.  We tell them it will be the experience of their lifetime - but this wasn't quite what we meant!  This is the first time in 60 years the Rotary Youth Exchange programme has been halted. Hopefully, Jan 2022 will see an outbound group but at this stage, it’s one day at a time.
Sandra Woods, D9910 RYE Chair
Bonjour! My name is Hayley Brown, I’m 18 years old and have spent the year 2020 in the quaint town of ‘Ancenis’ situated in the west of France. It goes unsaid that 2020 was an exceptional year - it certainly didn’t unfold quite as I had expected. Despite coming in and out of several lockdowns since March, I was extremely fortunate to explore many beautiful cities, towns, and attractions within the country. Some highlights include Paris; seeing the Eiffel Tower, going up the Arc de Triomphe at sunset, going on a riverboat tour down the Seine. Another one of my favourite moments was visiting Le Mont Saint Michel - a small village that appeared to be floating on water. I was even lucky enough to go on a couple of day trips to Spain, see Monaco and visit a range of other cities and towns; from Nantes to Clisson, Nice, Marseille, Nîmes, Le Mans, Clermont-Ferrand and many others. While this year did comprise many highlights and incredible cultural experiences, it did come with many challenges as well. Fortunately, I developed supportive and life-long relationships with my host families, Rotarians and especially friends I made over my time at college, Le Lycée de Saint Joseph. I am already counting down the days until I can return to France and share the country’s beautiful culture and stunning scenery with my family and friends. 

The youngest of our outbound students, Lucy Brannigan was in Germany. My host parents and I drove to Düsseldorf airport the Sunday after Christmas, so the roads were very quiet. Düsseldorf airport was surprisingly full - likely because Dubai had just opened for tourists. It was very sad saying goodbye to my host parents, however, at that point it wasn’t as bad as it normally is for exchange students, because I’d already said goodbye to my friends in the previous weeks leading up to the lockdown. The flight from Düsseldorf to Dubai was completely full, and everyone travelling to Dubai needed a negative COVID test, so I did mine on the 25th of December! I had a 7-hour layover, and about an hour before the flight, I got talking to some Kiwis. It was then an 18-hour flight back, with a 45-minute stop in Kuala Lumpur, where we refuelled. The quarantine experience was great. I was in the gorgeous SO/ Hotel, Auckland, and the staff were all very friendly. The food was mostly good, and I was lucky enough to be able to meet with people on the terrace. A girl from District 9920 was on the same flight as me, and we met almost every day. A few days before I left, three other exchange students arrived. We could all meet on the terrace, so it’s crazy to think that I could see more people in person than I could in Germany, with the main difference being masks and social distancing of course. I also found it good to have a bit of time to process my exchange year, and it was nice not to be jetlagged when I saw my family again for the first time. I’m glad to be coming back to a country where there is no COVID, and I would happily do quarantine again if it means that everyone is completely free once I get out.
Kia ora! I am Saana Ramaekers, the District 9910 exchange student to Finland. While I am still in quarantine here in New Zealand, I have had a lot of time to reflect on the past year and my experiences. Personal growth was the main takeaway from my exchange year, especially in light of the pandemic. I became a much more competent, confident and social individual which was only possible through conquering the many challenges that arose. From making friends in a foreign country without the support of the older exchange students to navigating a lock-down in an 11-person household, the difficulties that I faced were unlike any that previous exchange students have faced before. I learned to talk to new people, to take time to rest when I needed it, and along the way, I discovered parts of myself that I had never known about before. Although I will dearly miss this year-of-a-lifetime, I am also incredibly grateful to return to my home country and our unique position in the midst of COVID-19.