Legal consumption of alcohol and going to a disco with a bunch of girls her own age were foreign concepts to Jackie Toombs when she arrived in Emden, Germany, last month as part of a Rotary Club exchange.
At 17, Toombs is still two years too young to be part of the nightlife in Prince George, but it was nothing new to Birte Wiegmann, 17, her exchange host. The day Wiegmann turned 16, she was free to show up at a bar and ask for a pitcher of beer or a glass of champagne. Such are the nuances of life as German teenager.
"They like to go out every night. Me, not so much," said Toombs.
"I was able to get in the pubs but I don't drink. I didn't really like going to the bars. It was a big change for me. They have different traditions."
Toombs lives with her family on an acreage near Mud River, where games with the family or camping are regular summertime activities. Rather than sipping suds in a caf, she much preferred the evening barbecues and bonfires with Wiegmann and her friends.
"We don't go to discos every weekend, maybe one or two times a month," said Wiegmann. "Drinking in bars is just normal. I think it's bad we can't do that [in Canada], because I like going out."
Wiegmann's mom made Toombs feel more at home during the three weeks she was in Emden when she took down the German flag and replaced it with a Canadian flag. Her host family had difficulty finding meat replacements to accommodate the vegetarian diet Toombs follows, but they eventually got that worked out.
Wiegmann is fluent in English, having learned it in school for seven years, and that's giving her an advantage Toombs didn't have in Germany. Wiegmann has been in Prince George for a week and loved her trip to Barkerville, where she developed a sense of B.C. history, even though it only dates back 150 years, a blink of an eye compared to that of Emden, a North Sea port city of about 80,000 that dates back to the eighth century.
"Everybody is very friendly here. All the time, strangers ask 'How are you?' or 'How was your day?' In Germany, they never do that. But here, you come into a clothing shop and they ask you that."
She rode the river trails in Prince George and visited the PGX, where she learned the hard way she doesn't like onion rings. Wiegmann is amazed at the price of meat and cheese in Canada and figures just about everything except gasoline is more expensive than in Germany. She's still waiting to see her first moose or bear walking in the forest.
While in Germany, Toombs went waterskiing and climbing high ropes with Wiegmann. The town centre was close to where Wiegmann lives with her family so they either rode bikes into town or took the train. They travelled to Hamburg where they soared above the city in a hot air balloon, visited museums and the miniature wonderland, then rode rollercoasters at the Heidepark amusement park near Hanover.
This weekend, they'll spend a few days in Vancouver, staying with Tombs's German-speaking family friends and cross the border into Washington state for a wedding. They've also got a few days planned in Jasper, where they hope to get to the Miette Hot Springs, the Columbia Icefields and maybe Lake Louise.
Toombs has been involved in Rotary activities since she was seven, starting out as runner to dispatch drivers volunteering for the Operation Red Nose campaign at Christmas. The short-term Rotary exchange was her first overseas journey.
"It was an opportunity to see her culture first and compare it to my life," said Toombs. "Learning different languages and about different cultures helps widens your opportunities to learn new things about the world."
Jillian Budac was a late replacement selection for a year-long exchange to Belgium, sponsored by the Nechako Rotary Club. The other two Rotary Clubs in the city, Yellowhead and Downtown, also pay the freight for their long-term exchange students. Budac, 16, will be based in the small town of Esneux, a suburb of Lige, the third-largest city in Belgium, where she will be attending a French-speaking school.
"My French is terrible, I took it up until Grade 10 and I was never any good at it," said Budac, who prepped for her trip by taking Grade 12 courses at D.P. Todd secondary school.
"I'm looking forward to making new friends over there, learning history and seeing Europe. It's so much different from Canada."
Budac will be staying with three different host families. Her first family lives about a 20-minute train ride away from her school.
"The school is a stone building in the middle of the forest -- it's huge" said Budac. "It has statues and gardens and it looks high-end. I feel very fortunate to be part of this."
Rotary picks up the cost of flights, visa, and registration fees. The families of students are responsible for covering living costs. Budac will receive school credits only for a foreign language course and will have to go back to school in Prince George to earn enough credits to graduate.
As part of the D.P. Todd band, she'll miss a school trip to Los Angeles while she's in Belgium but she hopes to keep her musical skills.
"I can't take my trumpet with me -- it's too expensive -- but I'm hoping to borrow one while I'm there," she said.