Being a Rotary exchange student during a global pandemic was an unexpected experience for Vernon’s Cyan Ross-Van Mierlo.
Cyan was scheduled to leave Brazil in early July after several months with a host family in Sao Paulo.
“I miss my family and friends,” Cyan wrote in her blog on day 95 of quarantine.
She returned Aug. 2, and is sharing her adventure on the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, which has been a cornerstone of the service club since 1927.
Today, as many as 9,000 short- and long-term exchanges occur each year, allowing the opportunity for students to develop international friendships and learn about different cultures.
Cyan spent the first four months of her exchange year in the small city of Iguape.
Her lack of understanding of the national language, Portuguese, wasn’t the only source of culture shock. The school day ran from 7:30 a.m. to 12:50 p.m., after which she went home to the main meal of the day, every day, of rice, beans and meat. The next meal was usually a sandwich or pizza served between 9 and 11 p.m.
Her second host family was based in Sao Paulo, a city of 12 million, rich in architectural traditions and cultural institutions.
“My life changed so drastically from the laid back beaches in Iguape to the bustling metro of Sao Paulo. I am lucky to have been able to become part of two drastically different cultures in Brazil, which is something not many exchange students get to experience,” she says.
The excitement of Carnaval in February included a week of parades and samba dancing.
She spent time with 40 other Rotary exchange students from 16 countries while in Sao Paulo.
“I am naturally shy and introverted, but being on exchange has made me so much less shy because I know I will have a much better experience if I get as far out of my comfort zone as possible and talk to everybody I can.”
The group toured Brazil by bus for a month, visiting various cities and the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Upon her return, Cyan, spent the next two weeks in quarantine at home, reflecting on her experience.
“The hardest part of my exchange year was learning to speak Portuguese and accepting that you cannot learn a language overnight. My favourite part of the exchange was making friends from all over the world. Most important was to put myself out there in any situation and always say yes to new experiences.”
Due to COVID-19, applications for student exchanges are postponed until 2021.
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