Travel. A new language. A different culture. The exciting unknown. All of these things are music to Ginny Bjorkquist’s ears and the grade 11 Huntsville High School student will get to experience all of them next year.
Bjorkquist was recently accepted as the Rotary Club of Huntsville’s outbound exchange student for 2016-17, an experience that will have her heading to Belgium to live with three different host families while she goes to school.
She doesn’t know yet who her first host family will be – they’ll be revealed to her in May – only that they are matched based on an in-depth application she submitted that included a personality test and letters from herself, her parents and her teachers. She doesn’t even know which of Belgium’s three official languages she’ll be immersed in while there, but that’s one of the things she’s looking forward to.
“It could be French or Dutch but probably won’t be German,” she said. “I won’t know until May which district I’ll be in but I would prefer French both because I have a bit of a background from public school and I’ve heard that in that district they only speak French and no English. That immersion will make it easier to learn. So I am working on my French but if I end up in the Dutch district I’ll just go and learn while I’m there.”
Bjorkquist will have to do an extra semester or two at Huntsville High when she returns – the credits she’ll earn in Belgium aren’t counted here. But she wants to pursue a career in international development and feels this experience will be good preparation.
“I hope my job when I’m older will involve travelling. I’m interested in Political Science and within that International Development. After that [university], I’d like to try and get a job with the United Nations or the World Health Organization, but I don’t have any solid plans yet. Experiencing another country by myself will be helpful because that’s what I see for myself in the future. This is a really great program to initiate that and teach me how to travel the right way.”
She learned about the program from two friends who are both currently on Rotary exchanges – one in Spain and the other in Chile. “I sat between them in Spanish class and heard them talking about it every day. I thought it sounded amazing. I really love travelling and experiencing different cultures. I thought it would be a great way to learn a new language and be immersed in a different culture. So I got involved in the Interact Club and applied.” (Read Doppler’s earlier story about the HHS Interact Club here.)
Bjorkquist will also have the opportunity to travel; host Rotary districts plan optional excursions for exchange students. “They often offer a big trip you can do. I’ve heard that for Belgium you can choose to go on a 10-day trip to Italy or to Spain but that might change. They will also take the students on little trips on weekends, doing activities that country is known for,” she explained. “Your host family could also take you to do things. And you can travel yourself if your host family is okay with that.” Students receive room and board but are generally required to pay any special in-country travel costs themselves.
While she waits to hear more details, she’s following her friends’ adventures on their own exchanges. Those reports have Bjorkquist ramped up for her own departure in August. “I’m so excited. It’s going to be amazing.”