Rotary International Student Exchange to Sweden: I Became a Citizen of the World

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Jan 17, 2015 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Claudia Laroye lives in Vancouver, Canada. She was a Rotary Club Exchange Student from Canada to Sweden in 1985-1986. Claudia writes and blogs as thetravellingmom.ca, offering a modern mom's guide to family travel sanity. She loves to chat about travel on Twitter as @travelling_mom.

 

 Claudia Laroye with her family, Switzerland 2013.  From Rotary International Student Exchange to Sweden: I Became a Citizen of the World

 Claudia Laroye with her family, Switzerland 2013

 

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

Growing up, I was fortunate to travel abroad often and from a young age. I had a taste for travel and a curiosity to discover the world. The Rotary Club in my hometown was a big supporter of Rotary's International Student Exchange program. Rotary has been organizing and sponsoring high student exchange programs around the world for decades. My high school guidance counselor told me about the program, so I was keen to apply. I was also inspired by my mother, who'd been an exchange student in her teen years, from Bern, Switzerland, to South Carolina, USA, in the late 1950s. That experience had a profound effect on her, and I was certainly influenced by her positive example.

Once I passed Rotary's three-stage interview process and was accepted as an exchange student, I could choose three possible destinations, from which one would be 'the' ultimate destination for my year. You weren't allowed to choose a country where you had relatives (so Italy was out, sadly!). I chose Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium, and Sweden chose me! I lived in Sweden from August 1985 to July 1986. This summer it will be 30 years since my year abroad - unbelievable!

 

Me in a shopping cart at my Swedish school. This is the sendoff from my classmates at the end of term. From Rotary International Student Exchange to Sweden: I Became a Citizen of the World

Me in a shopping cart at my Swedish school. This is the sendoff from my classmates at the end of term.

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

My student exchange year was the best year of my life. It was an incredible experience to be 17 years old and on my own, living in someone else's home, moving to another country, and learning another language. I have so many wonderful memories of my time in Karlskoga, Sweden, including making new friends and visiting much of the country, going to the Nobel Prize Award dinner in Stockholm and seeing the King and Queen of Sweden, and becoming fluent in Swedish.

The challenges of living abroad were few. The biggest one was learning to live in a new household with host parents and adjust to different customs. My host family was older and more reserved than my own family, so that was a large adjustment for me. Missing my family and friends at home was certainly hard at times. Learning a new language was not a challenge as I'm proficient with languages, but for some of my expat friends, it was a really tough slog.

 

On holiday in Spain. From Rotary International Student Exchange to Sweden: I Became a Citizen of the World

On holiday in Spain.

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? If so, how & why?

I developed so many skills that I still employ today in everyday life. Self-confidence, independence, self-assurance, an ability to communicate in different languages to many different people. Ease in social situations and public speaking (which I had to do a lot, in both English and Swedish).

I was absolutely changed by my experience abroad, and for the better. I became a citizen of the world, as I got to travel to many other countries during my year abroad, including to the Soviet Union in March 1986, one month before the Chernobyl disaster. I became an independent young woman, confident of my abilities and unafraid of doing things on my own, for myself. I also became closer to my own family during my absence, as I appreciated them so much more upon my return.

 

 On the Helsinki to Leningrad train. From Rotary International Student Exchange to Sweden: I Became a Citizen of the World

 On the Helsinki to Leningrad train.

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? If so, how?

My experience abroad inspired me to pursue many personal goals. It motivated me to obtain a graduate degree in international relations, and adopt a positive world view, which I try to share with everyone I meet.  My travel writing and blogging is rooted in my past experiences, and drives my desire to inspire families to educate their children (and themselves) through travel. It is important to lessen the culture of fear that we appear to be living in today. Student exchanges are a powerful way to open doors for yourself and others.

 

What advice (on finances, the experience, etc.) would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

I would advise students who are thinking of going abroad to seek family support (emotional and financial) and choose their destination with care. It is also very important to research the service group or program that is sponsoring the study abroad program. Review alumni experiences, or better yet, reach out to them via email or social media. You want assurances that the sponsoring group is organized, has a track record, and is supportive if things go sideways. Keep an open mind while studying and traveling; soak up as much as you can. Finally, I would say go for it!

 

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

International education taught me so much. My world view was expanded and changed to include new concepts and ideas that made me a more open, and critically thinking young person. I learned how to adapt to new cultures and appreciate the differences between people and countries. I became a citizen of the world, and a better person in my own small way.

 

With the my classmates, celebrating the Swedish holiday of St. Lucia in December. From Rotary International Student Exchange to Sweden: I Became a Citizen of the World

With the my classmates, celebrating the Swedish holiday of St. Lucia in December.

 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

High school students are not too young to undertake a study abroad experience. It's actually the perfect time to spread your wings, discover the world, and learn more about yourself. If the opportunity exists, run, don't walk, to sign up and go. You will never regret it.

 
and lastly, please finish this twitter-friendly slogan on why you love study abroad:

#StudyAbroadBecause ... you can, you should, and it will change your life!

 

 

 

 

This is part of a series on international education, as part of our commitment to #GenerationStudyAbroad and our commitment to the White House Summit on Study Abroad and Global Citizenship. You'll find many more inspiring stories here on Wandering Educators!

 

 

 

 

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Claudia Laroye