Sunday, February 04, 2007

16 Hours Or: Why I Love Rotary Youth Exchange

Volleyball involves more soccor moves than volleyball moves, You learn how to say the most interesting things in Foreign Languages (i.e. That is your Mom, in Chineese) You spend two hours trying to remember what it was you were supposed to remember, and for 16 hours you are thrown into a chaotic smorgasbord of language, culture, late night chats, passing around community bottles of mountain dew, and being starkly reminded by water cascading over your head that you've made a pact to stay awake. What is it? Why the latest Rotary overnighter of course! I've decided that Overnighters are one of the best things in the world, and I am amazed at the fact that I waited so long to experience one. Having chalked two of them up to my building character talley, I have found myself a different person.

They say going with Rotary on a year long youth exchange changes you. What they don't tell you is that the changing starts before you even set foot on foreign soil. When I went to our first mandatory overnighter, I didn't really know what to expect. It didn't take me long to figure out the way things work and by the end of that evening I was a changed person. I didn't realize it until I got home. All I knew was that when I woke up from my eight hour nap after being up all night, I felt different. It was difficult to describe but the Abigail who came home from that meeting was not the same Abigail who left. It took me a while but I finally realized why. In 16 hours, 16 short hours that considering the amount of time we live, isn't really that long, I had experienced more of the world than some people do in their entire lives. I learned what hand sympols not to show in the Czech Republic, I heard the Indian national anthem, and I learned a smattering of foreign phrases you wouldn't be able to learn anywhere else. It was a shocking revelation, but after I understood why I felt the way I did, it was a revelation that I came to terms with. I realized that I was ready to make this change, come what may.

Flash forward a month. Overnighter number two. It was even better than the first. Why? Because the ice had been broken. So what if it had been X amount of weeks since you'd last seen these people. There is a common bond between us that allowed us to just pick right up where we'd left off. Strengthening friendships made. Amazing what 16 hours can do for you. This month, what did learn? Well for starters I learned that if you're going to Russia, don't tell the guy from the Czech Republic, but the guy from Slovakia has some really good information. I practiced the Rotary "Smile and Nod", I learned about the similarities between Slavic languages, and discovered the differences in relationships in several countries. I was reminded that laughter is the same in any language.

I came home tired, but happy. Pumped up for the next time I'll get to see my friends. Friends who I spend 16 short hours with once a month, but who, in some ways, I am closer to than friends I've known for a lifetime. God Bless the Youth Exchange Bond!

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