ImageTwo years ago, Elizabeth Pikaard (left), younger daughter of club member Ed Pikaart, went to Chile as an outbound Youth Exchange Scholar from our Club and District. Many of us will remember that there was a devastating earthquake in Chile during her tenure there. Despite the difficulties, Elizabeth stuck it out and discovered more about herself.

She has kindly provided us with a brief view on her thoughts on Youth Exchange. Please click to read what she wrote in her own words.

About a year and a half ago I was given the opportunity to moved to Chillán, Chile for a year as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student. This year abroad changed my life completely and continues to effect my day to day life here in the United States. When students travel abroad with Rotary the host clubs find families for the students to stay with and schools for the students to attend. I ended up living with the Ibañez family. I had two host sister, Magda who is 15 and Cata who is 16, and a host brother, Cristobal who is 19. Cristobal went on a Rotary Exchange to Chicago at the same time that I lived in Chile. While down there I attended one of the local Catholic School, Colegio Senimario Padre A. Hurtado, which goes from pre-k to 12th grade. Rotary did a great job of making sure that my family and school was all ready set up when I got down there so that I didn't have to worry about those kinds of things and I could just focus on getting used to living in a new country. 
Although I ended up falling in love with Chile, the people, and the culture it was really hard to be there at first. Since I new practically no Spanish when I got there it was very difficult to communicate with my family, classmates, and even Rotary members. I think that this most effected my home life because at school there were hundreds of new people to meet and they were all interested in me and helping me with my Spanish, where as at home after the first day we had used up all of my thought out ice breaker questions and the little vocabulary I did have did not permit me to even come close to having a conversation. So for the this month or so I felt very alienated at home and I blamed my family but now looking back on it my family was just as frustrated as I was because they wanted to talk to me and ask me questions but none of us had the language skills to do that. After that first month or two my Spanish improved quite a bit and after about 4 months I was able to understand the majority of what people were saying to me. It took about 5 months for me to feel really comfortable speaking in front of larger groups of people but I did get there. My friends were a huge reason my Spanish improved. They were so patient with me and my broken Spanish and took the time out to teach me new words or correct me when I used the wrong verb tense. The friendships I formed there are some of the strongest that I have. I try to talk to my Chilean friends at least once a week if not more. We are always talking on Facebook or Skype and updating each other about our lives. Even though it was not always easy living in Chile I would not take that year back for anything! 
There are many things that I have gained and learned through my year abroad. The most obvious accomplishment of my year abroad is that I am now fluent in Spanish. In high school I dreaded Spanish class and now I get so excited if I hear someone speaking Spanish in Target or walking down the street. Even though this is a huge cliche I definitely got to know myself and found out who I really am through this experience. I mean I was by myself in a foreign country and I did not speak the native language. Yes a had the support from the Rotary club at home and my host Rotary club but I really did have a to grow up and learn how to stand on my own two feet. 
Apart from my own personal growth I made lasting friendships. This summer my two best friends from Chile came to visit me here in the US. I was felt so amazing being able to share my home with them and show them around New England. They are both like my sisters and I know that no matter they will always be there for me. One of the two friends is a girl from Finland who was also an exchange student. So now I don't just have friends in Chile that I can go back to visit but I also have friends in Europe and Asia. These connections that I formed coupled with the fact that I absolutely fell in love with the Spanish language has helped me come to the decision to apply to universities in Chile so that I can do another study abroad year there. My friends, family, teachers, and host Rotary club have been amazing in helping me find a school that would fit my needs academically and a place to live when I move back. Chile is now my second home and I thank the North Branford Rotary Club every day for their support and for allowing me to have this amazing opportunity that not may young adult have had. My year abroad helped me to become the person I am today and will continue to effect me throughout my life! I encourage any young person who is looking for a life changing experience that will help them to grow as an individual and member of society to apply to the Rotary Youth Exchange and I especially recommend Chile as an amazing, loving country that will become a second home to anyone who visit it!