It's one thing to visit a country like Brazil or Belgium, it's another thing entirely to spend an entire high school year studying in a foreign land.
Opportunities abound for Prince George students to fly to other countries on foreign exchanges but it seems this year not many students are nibbling at the bait.
"It's highly unusual, we've interviewed only two students this year," said Gina Rawson, youth exchange officer of the Nechako Rotary Club. "Last year we had 11 and some years we've had up to 20."
All high schools in School District 57 have put up posters to get the word out to students and Rawson said it's also out there on Facebook and Twitter.
"More important for awareness of the program is word of mouth," she said. "When people meet the students we've had come in on exchange it makes them aware of the program."
Each school year, the three Prince George Rotary Clubs -- Nechako, Downtown and Yellowhead -- each sponsor one inbound longterm exchange student to live in Prince George. The three longterm Rotary exchange students now in the city are Howard Liu of Taiwan (hosted by the Downtown club), Elyse Donck of Belgium (Nechako) and Natalia Peres of Brazil (Yellowhead). Liu and Donck attend Prince George secondary school and Peres is at College Heights secondary.
"They are just such fantastic representatives of youth that when people meet them and hear about the program they say, 'I wish my son or daughter knew about that,'" said Rawson.
"When we're so inundated with young people doing less-than-desirable things, it's nice to see really involved and energetic good kids and hear about the things they are doing."
Donck spent a weekend at Lake Louise and during that trip had the chance to go sheep hunting, sleeping overnight under a tarp. The Yellowhead club sent Peres to Vancouver for a youth conference. This weekend, the Nechako club will host a Halloween party for all nine of the inbound students now being hosted in northern B.C. on longterm exchanges.
Before they go home, all foreign students are eligible for the B.C. tour, which starts in June in Vancouver and takes them to Williams Lake, Kelowna, Banff, Lake Louise, and Whistler.
All homes in the worldwide Rotary program have been pre-approved by club members in each country and each host parent is required to pass a criminal record check. Students stay with a minimum of two host families, up to a maximum of four families.
The hosting club pays a small monthly allowance but most of the cost is the responsibility of the students and their families. The cost for students living outside of Canada ranges from about $5,000 to $8,000. The program is geared to students aged 15-18.
Students have four "no D rules" that have to be followed - no drinking, no drugs, no driving and no dating of a serious nature.
"The reason we say no dating is if they pair up with someone, the chances are such that they won't want to go out and experience things," said Rawson. "If a Rotarian asks them to go skiing and the boyfriend doesn't like to ski, the student will say they'd rather go to a show."
While all students attend area high schools, often they do not receive credit in their home country for the courses they study. As Rawson explains, the intent of the program is not an educational exchange, it's meant to be a cultural experience.
Countries deemed unsafe for Canadians, like Iran or Afghanistan, are off-limits.
"We used to send students to Japan, but they are still recovering from the [March 2011] tsunami," said Rawson. " We look at all the issues in all the countries involved to make sure the students are as safe as possible and they can be well supported.
"One of our past district governors summed it up very nicely when he said, 'If every young teenager had the opportunity to go on a Rotary exchange, we would have peace in the world.' It's pretty hard to start a war with someone you consider to be part of your second family and you've learned to appreciate their culture."
The Nechako club is planning more preliminary interviews on Oct. 29-30 for Prince George students interested in applying for the longterm exchange program. Final interviews will follow Nov. 1 and Nov. 5. Call Rawson at 250-552-3200 or Toni Stedeford, the Downtown club youth exchange officer, at 250-962-6334.