Rowan Somerville and Andrea Janse Van Rensburg

Rowan Somerville and Andrea Janse Van Rensburg

Rotary offers Nanaimo students cultural experience abroad

NANAIMO – Teens between 16 and 18 have chance to travel abroad and experience new cultures with Rotary Youth Exchange.

Teenagers between 16 and 18 years of age have an opportunity to travel abroad and experience different cultures through Rotary Youth Exchange.

Paul Geneau, Nanaimo Rotary Youth Exchange joint committee chairman, says the program is administered by local Rotary clubs and sees youths living in foreign countries. Applicants needn’t be related to Rotary club members, he said.

Rowan Somerville and Andrea Janse Van Rensburg, Grade 12 students at Dover Bay Secondary School, took part in the exchange between August 2015 to July 2016 and said their time in Germany was one of the best experiences of their lives.

Janse Van Rensburg, who lived in Ratingen, North Rhine-Westphalia, said it was big step out of her comfort zone, but she has become more independent and self-sufficient.

German public transit allows younger people to go anywhere without the need of a car. It makes independence among younger people the norm, Janse Van Rensburg said.

“That was something that made me feel more independent because I was able to, for example, go into the city and go shopping without having to ask my host parent to go take me shopping, or I was able to go book my own dentist/doctor’s appointment by myself because I could get there,” said Janse Van Rensburg.

Being from Canada, Somerville noticed cultural differences. The German attitude tends to be more liberal toward drinking, he said.

“Even from a young age, they’re introduced to alcohol, but you’re introduced to it in a way that you’re always drinking alcohol as a social thing … you’re drinking a beer not to be intoxicated, like I think a lot of younger people especially do here.

“It’s just drinking to enjoy it because I think there’s not this stigma around drinking, which kind of makes people more open about it and I think because of that, people drink a lot more responsibly and it’s a lot more social,” said Somerville.

Geneau said Nanaimo families will be expected to provide room and board and act as surrogate parents.

“This is not a guest in your home, but somebody that you want to make part of your family, so they become very close … it becomes a very rich experience, a very rich relationship that exchange students have with their host families,” said Geneau.

An exchange information session will be held Wednesday (Sept. 21) at Beban Park social centre at 7 p.m.

For more information, please contact Geneau at or go to