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It's time to become part of another family -- in Chile

As some of you may know, I will be spending a year abroad next year. I'm headed to Chile through the Rotary Youth Exchange program.

I have wanted to go on an exchange since I was a little girl; it's always been a dream of mine, and now I finally get the chance to experience it. I've seen the experiences of many exchange students, including the eight that my family has hosted, and I've always wanted my chance to do it.

I applied in the fall and had to go to district interviews in Duluth. The interviews were to see if I was really who I said I was on the application, to see if I was a good ambassador for Rotary and if I was a quality kid. They went great -- except for the fact that I was sicker than a dog. I was disoriented and cold and then suddenly hot. I apparently made a good enough impression despite being ill though because a couple of weeks later I received the e-mail that I had been accepted. I was now officially a Rotary out bound exchange student.

At first, I was extremely excited. I was practically bouncing off the walls. Then the, "Holy moley. I'm leaving America for a year" set in. I realized that I was actually going to go and it wasn't just some dream of mine anymore. It was really happening, exciting and scary at the same time.

When the call came last week to let me know that I was heading to Chile, I just about flipped. I had expected to go to Chile all along, but it was so nice to finally know for sure. I am working on my second year of high school Spanish, so my first choice of countries was Spain, but I later realized that I wanted to go to Chile more. Chile was my second choice, and then Argentina was third.

I had a list of about 34 countries, and I had to prioritize my preferences for each. Mexico and Australia were way down the list. I didn't want to go to Mexico because it's on the same continent. To me, it was too close to home. Australia didn't interest me either. Part of the experience of an exchange year is learning a new language. In Australia they speak English -- sort of.

This past weekend, we had a Rotary exchange student get together at the Deep Portage Conservation Reserve near Hackensack. Siri, my sister from Denmark, (in the spirit of speaking Spanish) mi amigo Calvin who is going to Finland, Julia who is from Germany and Jackie who is from Taiwan joined me on the trip. There we met with all the other out bounds, inbounds and rebounds from Rotary District 5580.

Rebounds are the people who went on an exchange and are now home. We learned about culture shock, some of what to expect on the exchange and some about Rotary's expectations of us. I was lucky to room with inbound girls from Chile, Peru and Mexico. I learned that I have a lot to learn when it comes to speaking Spanish.

We also had a lot of fun. On Saturday, we participated in the annual Deep Portage winter rendezvous. We had the chance to play all these outdoor activities including trap shooting, tomahawk throwing, cross cut sawing, curling, rock climbing and orienteering.

One of the staff members was impressed because I had done every one of the activities before. All day, he kept on asking me questions about curling. He asked me the rules, the point and where it originated. It was actually cool to tell him about the very little knowledge I have of curling. When we were climbing the climbing wall later on he asked me, "Is there anything you don't do?" Then I informed him that I am a climbing instructor at Camp Wilderness.

With all the past experiences that I've had hosting Rotary exchange students in my own family, I can't wait to experience my own adventure. I've already met many great people through Rotary, and I plan on meeting a plethora more on my exchange to Chile next year.

Berit Ramstad Skoyles is a sophomore at Detroit Lakes High School.