‘I want to see everything’
EAGLE COUNTY ” If things go well, Brooke Segerberg might get to pet a reindeer in the next few months. She might get to eat one, too.
Segerberg is part of this year’s crop of local students, all of whom just finished their sophomore years at Battle Mountain High School. The three are headed to other countries as part of Rotary Youth Exchange, a program the three local Rotary clubs participate in.
Segerberg flew to Sweden this week. In August, Heather Nelson will jet off to Argentina and Janice Savonen will head to Italy. All three are eager for adventures that will last the better part of a year.
“It’s like a whole new life, experience some of the world, seeing what the people are like,” Savonen said. “I’m excited to go explore.”
Segerberg would like to at least see, if not pet or eat, reindeer. Her father’s side of the family is Swedish, so there’s an ancestral home to visit if there’s time.
For three kids about 16, the chance to see the world outweighs most of the nervousness of living, and going to school, in a foreign land. There will be a language barrier, at least for Nelson and Savonen.
Nelson freely admits her Spanish isn’t very good, and Savonen has been picking up as much Italian as she can through classes at Colorado Mountain College. Segerberg is counting on a lot of Swedes knowing English (which they do).
The girls were asked to submit a list of four countries they’d like to go to, and all got their first choices. They’ll live with at least one local family in their host countries and attend public schools.
Students who get into the Rotary exchange program are already good students, so their junior years are graded on a pass/fail system. When they return, they’ll head straight into their senior years.
While Rotary students are immersed in the cultures of the countries they live in, they do have guides. At least one member of each girl’s host family speaks English.
And there are Rotary clubs just about everywhere. In fact, the girls will spend a lot of mornings talking to clubs in their host countries. Segerberg’s not too happy about that part of the trip.
“I hate public speaking,” she said. “Maybe talking to people who speak a different language will help.”
Rotary tries to prepare exchange students for speaking engagements at a couple of seminars, one of which makes the kids do a little improvisation. Nelson had to talk for two minutes on how to balance a chicken on a bowling ball.
“That was horrible,” she said.
While Savonen has been in speech classes and participated in school plays, she hopes solo speeches will be a little easier when they’re made in front of strangers.
But giving back to Rotary is part of the drill. After all, once kids get into the program the club picks up a big part of the tab. Families pay $3,500 to send a kid to another country for a year, and Rotary picks up the rest.
All three girls have been working to earn at least part of their families’ share of the bill. Segerberg has been working as a lifeguard. Nelson’s been working in her family’s business, and Savonen has spent time working for Rotary at the Community Rummage Sale.
In something of an irony, none of this year’s local participants were involved with Rotary before sending in applications. All of them had heard of the program, from either teachers or other students. But the students had to seek out the applications.
That was when the work started. Between applying and getting on the plane, the girls guessed they’d written 15 essays or more and been through a number of interviews and seminars. But the payoff is the adventure of a lifetime.
Beside the reindeer, Segerberg wants to get into a sauna in the middle of nowhere during the long Nordic nights. The cross-country skier also wants to get on a Nordic team.
“It would be cool to be on a team where the sport was basically invented,” she said.
Italy’s art and fashion scenes appeal to Savonen. And Nelson’s goals for Argentina are simple. “I want to see everything,” she said.
Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or email@example.com.
On the Web:www.rotary.org
Vail Daily, Vail Colorado