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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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First Rotary youth conference kicks off in NOTL


For high school student Victoria Sawicki, a Rotary Youth Exchange program that allowed her to study in France for a year was “life-changing.”

“I’m definitely not the same person I was when I left. I’ve changed a lot,” she said.

“Before, I could never public speak. And now, you learn that you can do public speaking in a foreign language and you can do pretty much anything, anywhere.”

The first annual District 7090 Rotary Youth Conference, held at the NOTL Community Centre Saturday, brought more than 150 young people together.

The conference was organized by Rotary District 7090, which is comprised of about 80 Rotary and Rotaract clubs, stretching from southern Ontario to western New York state.

Niagara-on-the-Lake was chosen to host the conference because of its central location in the district.

The conference featured presentations about various youth programs, with keynote speaker Jeff Bagel talking about fundraising and special event planning.

For Shark Tank presentations, four teams pitched ideas on how Rotary’s global grant scholarships would be used for their projects.

“The friendships you form through Rotary and through volunteering, you just meet so many nice people,” Sheila Nguetti said about what she liked most about being a part of Rotary.

“Knowing that I’m making a difference in my community is really nice,” another student Adelina Metz added.

Among a wide variety of youth programs, the Rotary Youth Exchange program provides students aged 15-19 with a unique opportunity to live in a foreign country for a full academic year.

Exchange students are hosted by three or four local families throughout the year while attending local high schools. All costs are covered except airfare, health insurance, visa application and out-of-pocket expenses.

Anna Lechner, a 16-year-old student from Croatia, was one of the 18 inbound exchange students attending the conference. She said the exchange program was amazing and the conference was “a lot of fun.”

“(I liked) meeting a lot of people who have the same interest as me and spending time with my friends I haven’t seen in a month,” Lechner said.

Another exchange student from the Netherlands, Nikita Lammers, who came to Canada in August, said she’s getting used to living here.

“It’s a different vibe to it. It feels like home but you’re not. It’s really weird but I actually enjoy it,” she said about her experience living in Waterdown, adding she also loves “Timmies.”

“We only have Starbucks and it’s also very expensive. And Timmies is such a good option and I love it,” Lammers said.

Thanks to the program, another inbound exchange student from Sweden, Frida Nielsen, was able to participate at the Rotary Fall Fashion Show last Sunday.

Exchange programs allow young people to be out of their comfort zone and provide them with unique opportunities like the one Nielsen had, said Patricia Murenbeeld, youth committee chair of the Rotary Club of NOTL.

Rotary clubs are also always looking for families willing to host exchange students.

“Being a year away, in another part of the world, and learning another culture, and getting pushed out of your comfort zone and coming back at the end of it and realizing you’ve survived – you have this strength you can conquer anything in life and it’s just spectacular,” Murenbeeld said.

Jill Norton, chair of Youth Exchange for District 7090, said the conference was “tremendous” and she’s pleased with the feedback.

“Everyone seems to be really overwhelmed with all the great information they’re getting and they seem to be really excited to go back to their clubs and share so it’s been great,” Norton told The Lake Report.