Rotary Youth Exchange

Rotary Club welcomes new group of exchange students Teenagers gather in Ocean City; they live with local families, attend area high schools Published in the September 17, 2009 issue By Kristen Riley Ocean City Sentinel Ocean City - Despite the gray skies and mist hanging in the air, a group of students gathered on the front porch of the Deming house in Ocean City Saturday morning. The group laughed before sitting down on the trash bags covering the steps, there to protect them from wood still damp from the early morning rain. Adults with cameras waited under threatening skies in the front yard for the group to get settled. It seemed silly to battle Mother Nature for this photo - why not just take it indoors? First of all, these weren't just any students. And second of all, it was tradition. The Ocean City/Upper Township Rotary Club always takes a photograph of that year's exchange students on the Deming front porch. "This is one of the best groups we've had," said Outbound Director Jack Kammer. "They have a positive attitude, they're friendly and they seem happy to be here." Sept. 11 to 13 was the local Rotary's eighth annual International Weekend, when the exchange students have an orientation, enjoy a dip in the Atlantic Ocean and take in some popular Ocean City spots, like Gillian's Wonderland Pier and Express Pizza. "The exchange program is for world peace and understanding," Kammer said. "You can't do this by sending a check overseas. This is how you make friendships to last a lifetime." "It breaks down the barriers," added District Chairman Bob Saghirian. The eight students visiting this year's district, which covers the state's six southern counties, are: Anna Mader from Austria hosted by the Ocean City/Upper Township Club; Lucia Torres from Spain hosted by the Lower Township Club; Monique Deparis from Brazil hosted by the Atlantic City Club; Olivier Barut from France hosted by the Washington Township Club; Jiri Bocek from the Czech Republic hosted by the Pitman Club; Alfredo del Toro Gomes from Mexico hosted by the Garden State Club; Onchira Bunyaphala from Thailand hosted by the Camden County Club; and Svetlana Potapova from Russia hosted by the Mays Landing Club. Each student will live with host families and attend a local high school during their one-year stay. Most of the teenagers arrived in mid-August and started the school year last week. "It's really good. It's new, but interesting," Mader said of her first week at Ocean City High School. The 15-year-old is taking a senior course load at the school. She said she decided to take part in the Rotary exchange to improve her English and simply for the experience. Deparis and Torres had friends who were part of the program earlier. Their experiences convinced the girls to apply for the program, too. "It's different ... the school is too big," Torres said with a laugh. The 16-year-old is a junior at Lower Cape May Regional High School. Mader said in Austria, her entire school has 300 students, which is less than a quarter the size of OCHS. Deparis, who is 17 and attending Egg Harbor Township High School as a junior, agreed that the size is intimidating. "The hallways are always crowded. You get lost," she said. Another big change was rotation. In their respective countries, students stay put in one classroom all day long, while the teachers rotate through the building. The trio was surprised to find in America, it's the other way around. "It's hard to make friends this way - it's different people in all your classes," said Deparis. "It's stressful," added Mader. Nevertheless, they enjoyed their first week of school. "The good part is you get to choose what you want to study," Deparis said. Mader was excited to pick up photography and ceramics classes, and somewhat surprised with OCHS's offerings of oceanography and astronomy. Torres was enjoying piano and gym at Lower. She's also playing on the school's soccer team. The girls said their host families and the Rotarians are making the transition easier. "My family here is like my family at home. They do everything to make me feel comfortable," said Deparis. "It's good." "Everybody helps a lot," added Mader, "especially the Rotarians." Kammer said the Rotary District is looking for American students who are interested in taking part in the exchange program next year. Requirements are that students must be between 15.5 and 18.5 years old, are adventurous and outgoing. The district also needs host families for next year's exchange students. "There's a lot of support for this program," said Saghirian. "And it's fairly inexpensive, because it's volunteer driven." Those interested in finding out more about next year's exchange program can contact Kammer by phone at (609) 898-9134 or by email at