Rotary Youth Exchange Program offers unique opportunity

Milja Liinanotko, right, an international exchange student from Finland, spent the past year in Waconia with the help of the Waconia-West Carver Rotary Club. Here, Liinanotko is shown enjoying a Gopher’s men’s hockey game in Feburary with Taylor Hubbard, the Youth Exchange counselor with the Waconia-West Carver Rotary Club.

Milja Liinanotko, right, an international exchange student from Finland, spent the past year in Waconia with the help of the Waconia-West Carver Rotary Club. Here, Liinanotko is shown enjoying a Gopher’s men’s hockey game in Feburary with Taylor Hubbard, the Youth Exchange counselor with the Waconia-West Carver Rotary Club.

The Waconia-West Carver Rotary Club is sponsoring two incoming international exchange students for the 2013-14 school year and are seeking six host families (three per student). Each host family would be willing to host one of the students for approximately  three and a half months.

While these students are required to attend school in the Waconia School District, they do not have to live in Waconia.

The only other requirements of a host family are to provide the student with food and shelter. While it is optimum that the student has their own bedroom, that is not a requirement.

What is most important, however, is that these students are treated as part of the family. That family atmosphere helps students navigate the foreign exchange experience.

As this year’s Exchange student Milja Liinanotko said, “My host families are like my real family to me. I appreciate everything they have done for me.”

She also noted that while moving into someone else’s home may appear frightening at first, her host families have made her comfortable and taught her a great deal about the culture and customs of the United States.

Liinanotko has spoken of the benefits to her of staying with her host families, but there is another positive side to the coin.

“Becoming a host family also benefits the host family in a number of ways,” noted Rotary Inbound Youth Exchange program chair Keith Sjodin.

These benefits include educating the family about another country, teaching the family the values of a different culture and opening their hearts to include another family member.

With so many benefits, one would assume that everyone would want to be a host family.

“I believe they would because the experience is so rewarding,” noted Sjodin, “but there are misconceptions about the program.”

What are they? For one, many people assume you need to have a student the same age as the incoming exchange student. While a same age child can introduce the exchange student to the school and other students as well as helping them navigate the social customs in our country and at school, younger children can also be comforting to the exchange student.

“Many of these exchange students have younger brothers and sisters at home, so having younger children around makes them feel more at home,” Sjodin said.

Also, there is really no requirement that the host family has children living at home. Couples without children can focus on the incoming youth exchange student and that can be as valuable to the student as having a host family wit  h a student their own age or young children in the host family.

Secondly, some people assume they are responsible for all the monetary needs for the student. The student herself is expected to provide for some of their financial needs. Additionally, the local Rotary club provides the students with a monthly allowance and will consider subsidizing some of their unexpected expenses.

In addition, Rotary provides the student with a counselor.

“The biggest thing we ask of our host families,” stated Taylor Hubbard, the Youth Exchange counselor this year, “is a loving home and to make them feel a part of the family.”

This year’s incoming youth exchange students are both female; one is an 18 year old from coming from Chile and one is a 16 year old from Austria.  Hosting one of these students will be a cultural experience to the host families that is priceless.

For more information, contact Sjodin at (952) 442-7700 or kesjodin@mhslaw.com.

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