Rotary Youth Exchange

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Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) is a Rotary International student exchange program for students in secondary school. Since 1929, Rotary International has sent young people around the globe to experience new cultures. Currently, about 9,000 students are sponsored by Rotary clubs every year.

Program History

The Rotary Club of Copenhagen, Denmark initiated the first exchange in 1929. Rotary Youth Exchanges (RYE) began in Europe and have spread world-wide. Typically, students are sent to another country for a year-long stay, allowing them to experience a completely different culture and (usually) language. The student typically lives with multiple host families during the year and is expected to perform daily tasks within the household as well as attend school in the host country. The number of host families can vary, but three is the most common number. Short term exchange programs are also quite common. These typically involve direct student exchanges between two families arranged through Rotary to coincide with major school holiday periods.


The Rotarians that participate in the program are volunteers. Many Rotarians are involved in various aspects of the youth exchange program including student selection, compliance with immigration and Rotary regulations, hosting, and supporting students. Each student is sponsored by a Rotary Club and Rotary District in their home country and is hosted by a Rotary Club and Rotary District in their host country. Most districts have a chair for the Rotary Youth Exchange program and some also have committees. Each Rotary Club that hosts a student provides a Rotarian counselor for the student who is the student's contact person within the club and provides support to the student when needed. Some districts are very active and host and send many students, other districts are less active and host fewer students.


The parent Rotary organization, Rotary International, has instituted a Certification Program which assesses individual RYE programs with a primary focus on quality control and student safety. Rotary groups are not permitted to participate in RYE programs without first obtaining RI Certification.


Events for students vary from country to country and district to district, but exchange students may often be able to visit other parts of their host country and sometimes other countries while on exchange with their host families, schools, or Rotary. Many districts organize tours for the students they host, which may include weekend trips to nearby cities, tours of the host country that may last several weeks, and many students in Europe have the opportunity to take part in Eurotours which visit many countries and last two to four weeks. However, like most exchange programs, the primary purpose of Rotary Youth Exchange is to provide a cultural and academic exchange and significant independent travel by students is therefore not allowed.


The selection process may vary by district and country, but most students apply to a Rotary Club in their hometown or a nearby town as the first step. The student will likely be interviewed by this Rotary Club and if this club agrees to sponsor the student, the student's application will be extensive, according to most students. It consists of 12-20 pages, and 4 exact copies which must each be signed in blue ink. The application asks for basic general information, medical history, dental history, principal or guidance counselor review, grades from the past 2 years, teacher recommendation, and personal questions answered by the student.

The student will likely go through another round of interviews at the district level before a final decision is reached. In some districts, there is a lot of competition for just a few spots. In other districts, there are more openings than applicants and in this case the district will likely accept all of those they feel are qualified and prepared.

The program is ideal for students who are intent on becoming fluent in another language, learning a new culture on an intimate basis with 3-4 different families (the number is dependent on the country: many Rotary Clubs in South America will provide only a single host family, while in other countries such as Japan it is possible to have six or even more families) and being an ambassador for their country. This program is for students who are self motivated, outgoing, and smart. Students live with a number of families but they are not guests - they are expected to fit into the family's normal daily routine. This includes doing the chores requested by the family, participating in all the family's events, and generally becoming the closest representation of a biological child as is possible.

If the student is accepted into the program, the youth exchange committee will assign them a host country and send the student's paperwork to that country. The student may or may not be guaranteed their first choice of country, therefore students who are set on a particular country may wish to look into other programs. The committee may take a variety of factors into consideration when making host country assignments, including the countries the student is most interested in, language skills, the number of students wanting to go to each country, and where the Rotarians feel is the best suited country for the student. Numerous countries have set requirements or restrictions which can very each year. For example, France currently requires 3 years of language study, an application completed in French, and it will not accept Post-Graduates or Vegetarians.[1] Another way some districts decide on countries is a scoring interview. In these districts, if three students request France as their first choice and the district can only send one student to France, Rotarians may send the student that scored highest on their interview. Italy in particular is notorious for having very high standards and accepting few students.

After the host country's youth exchange program receives the student's paperwork, they will assign the student to a host Rotary Club, who will arrange for host families and a host school for the student. The host club will get a variety of signatures on the paperwork and then send part of it back to the student's home Rotary as a guarantee of the student's placement. These forms are usually necessary for the student to receive a visa to stay in the host country. It is rare, but possible for a student to be assigned a host country and the host district to refuse the student. In this case, the student will usually be reassigned to a different country or part of the country.


Indonesian Rotary Youth exchange students at orientation. Outbounds are in green blazers and rebounds are in blue.

Prior to leaving, most districts hold orientations for the students. These orientations usually include a variety of seminars and activities designed to prepare students for their exchanges. Topics covered usually include program rules, discussions with former exchange students about their experiences, and information about what students need to do before their departure. Students also learn about how to make a presentation about their home country and region, which they will usually be required to present to their hosting Rotary club and may be invited to present to other groups as well. Inbound exchange students may also participate in the orientations as well.

The rules discussed may vary somewhat, but the "4 Ds" apply to all students regardless of home or host country. The 4 Ds are the four most important Rotary exchange rules, and among the exchange students it's a must to not break these four rules during the exchange year:

  1. No driving

  2. No drinking

  3. No serious dating

  4. No drugs

If a student breaks any of these rules, the student may be removed from the program, that is, sent home.

Sometimes an extra D will be added, such as "no debt." Also recently a fifth and sixth D has been added, No Disfiguring (Tattoos, Piercings), and no Downloading, which pertains to illegal or pirated music, and movies. Sometimes are the P,T and 2 extra Ss, P meaning no pornography, and T meaning responsible use of technology and the two Ss for no sex and no smoking.

The rules typically vary by district, although the 4 Ds are fairly universal. In addition, depending on the countries culture many of the rules may be broken without punishment. In particular, the drinking rule is broken in almost all districts and is rarely punished. Most districts will describe this rule as implying that you are allowed to drink, but you are not allowed to become severely drunk. Similarly, the dating rule is subject to a lot of debate as it is a very general description. Most districts will require that at the very least you avoid sexual activity, and should also not "break someone's heart" by maintaining a long and serious relationship that will inevitably come to an end. Typically, a student will only be sent home after several repeat offences, or a very serious offence (depending on the district and culture).


Exchange students are called "outbounds" by their home (sponsor) Rotary club and district, and simultaneously "inbounds" by their host Rotary club and district in the country they spend their year in. Students who have completed their exchanges are called "rebounds" or "rotex". But the term "rotex" usually refers to former outbounds who participate in the organization Rotex for helping exchangers. There is also the rare "yo-yo" - a student who has been on two exchanges. Other slang includes the terms "newies" and "oldies".

Due to the arrival of many of the southern hemisphere students in January and the northern hemisphere students in August, there is a group of students that are half a year behind or ahead of that current generation. A student from an older generation is an oldie and students from newer generation are newbies or newies. This half year delay can be helpful in mentoring the newer students into an exchange student's lifestyle.

Another slang word that is used is "dinosaur", which can refers to one's oldie's oldie. Other terms include "Northie" and "Southie", referring to student from either a northern or southern (respectively) hemisphere country, which affects the time period that an exchanger will spend in their host country. A Southie will usually depart either January or February, staying in their host country until the beginning of the next year, while a Northie usually leaves in August or September and stays until the following June or July. This is usually dependent on the students home country. A student from the United States will almost always leave in August or September and will stay until June or July. This can result in back-to-back summers, if a student travels to the southern hemisphere.

Getting Ready to Go Abroad

Prior to the exchange, it would be beneficial to the student to research and to learn as much about their host country as they can. The student would focus on subjects like history, literature, arts, and the principle struggles of the country. Libraries, bookstores, and websites are good ways to obtain information.

The student is not expected to be fluent in the host language before departure, but he/she will be expected to have a basic understanding of the new language. It will help them in understanding schoolwork, their host families, signs around the area they will be living in, and it will help them make new friends during the exchange.

Native Culture
It is necessary for the student to learn as much about their own country as they can, as he/she will most likely be asked questions about their home. They will most likely be expected to answer questions about their country’s geography, history, politics, customs, culture, and government.

Although packing may seem relatively simple, the student must keep in mind that they will be staying in a different country for a year. This does not mean 'pack as much as you can'. Some students make do with a few pairs of pants and some shirts, while others try to pack their entire wardrobe into 2 suitcases. It is important for them to keep in mind that they will undoubtedly feel the need to purchase clothes from their host country to help fit into the fashion style and appear less foreign.

-The student will be allowed two suitcases and one carry-on bag. (Depending on the airline)

-Luggage must be light, durable, and easy to close.
-Wheeled luggage is helpful but not necessary
-Students will place their name, home address, destination address, and telephone numbers on both the inside and outside of every piece of luggage
-Students will pack less than they think they will need
-He/she would pack only essential items in their carry-on bags ex. Medication, basic toiletries
-It is advised that the student wear a ‘safe pouch’ inside their clothing containing their passport, money, tickets, host family’s and chair’s telephone numbers, and other important papers

Clothes and Personal Items
-Students would only bring what they know they will wear, not what they might
-Pack only their most comfortable pants and jeans. Make sure they are not a "tight-fit" before leaving, as most students experience a 15 to 20 pound weight gain.
-Students must not bring multiple pairs of dress shoes. They will buy shoes during the exchange.
-If the student wears glasses, they would bring an extra pair and a copy of their prescription.
-If the student wears contacts, they will bring cleaning solution and a copy of their prescription

-A student would bring a notebook or journal to record important events and discoveries
-The student should consider bringing small gifts for their host families. The gifts will not be expensive, but they should represent the area the student lives in
-It is discouraged that the student brings computers or electronic games with them on the exchange
-Powers adapters may be necessary for items requiring electrical currents
-The student must not bring excessive quantities of books, CD’s, or other such items, but photos are encouraged

Practical Information
-PREPARE FOR EMERGENCIES. The student must know how to contact parents, host clubs, and district sponsors should a flight be delayed or missed
-The student would only bring a small amount of host country currency with them upon first arriving
-The student will leave a good amount of space in their luggage. Items and clothing will be bought during the exchange, and the student is allowed to only bring the same two suitcases and carry-on bag back with them
-The student must wear the Rotary blazer while traveling.

While Abroad

Every student abroad will experience some common obstacles upon arriving.

-It is the student’s responsibility to regularly attend school and to take studies seriously. Some districts will allow older students to take classes at local universities, but it is rare.
-The student would know how to get to and from school and how to get lunch off school grounds if necessary

Getting Involved
-It would be beneficial for the student to participate in activities to better acquaint himself or herself with the host country’s culture.
-If the student chooses to, they may attend religious services of their own or of their host family’s
-Students are encouraged to participate in school activities

Language Proficiency
-Every student, regardless of preparation, will struggle with the language of his/her host country. The language will be learned through day-to-day involvement in the host country.
-The student must not ever hesitate to ask for clarification on a certain subject.
-The student would always carry a good dictionary with them.

-It is normal for the student to be homesick during the beginning of their exchange.
-To combat homesickness, it is best to get involved with activities
-Homesickness is never a good reason for the student to return home.

Telephone and E-mail Use
-The student would try to limit these forms of contact, as constant contact with family and friends could get in his/her way when adjusting to the new country -It is encouraged that the student makes contact with family occasionally to give updates on their exchange.


Today, many Rotary Exchange students can be recognized by their Rotary Youth Exchange blazer. While most countries recommend navy blue, the blazer may also be dark green, red, black, or maroon. The color of the blazer usually depends on which country or region the exchange student is from. One Rotary tradition is that students cover their blazers in pins and patches they have traded with other students or bought in places they have visited as evidence of their exchange. It is popular for the students to bring a large collection of national- or regional-themed pins and trade them with students from other areas. This tradition is popular worldwide.

Blazer colors by country:

  • Argentina - navy blue

  • Australia - green

  • Austria - navy blue

  • Belgium - navy blue

  • Bermuda - navy blue

  • Bolivia - navy blue

  • Brazil - navy blue

  • Canada - red/navy blue

  • Denmark - navy blue

  • Ecuador - navy blue

  • Finland - light blue

  • France - light blue

  • Germany - blue

  • Hungary - navy blue

  • India - navy blue

  • Indonesia - varied by year

  • Japan - navy blue

  • Italy - navy blue

  • Mexico - navy blue/green/red

  • Netherlands - navy blue

  • New Zealand - black

  • Norway - navy blue

  • Peru - blue

  • Philippines - navy blue

  • Poland - navy blue/black

  • Russia - navy blue

  • Slovakia - navy blue

  • South Africa - green

  • South Korea - navy blue

  • Sweden - navy blue

  • Switzerland - bordeaux

  • Taiwan - navy blue (bright green in year 2006-2007. dark green in year 2007-2008, bordeaux since 2008-2009)

  • Thailand - navy blue/bordeaux

  • Turkey - black

  • United States - navy blue/green

  • Venezuela - navy blue

  • Zimbabwe - black

External sources (active links)

Rotary Youth Exchange from Rotary International

Rotary International

A Primer for Exchange Students

A Guide for Host Families

Rotary Youth Exchange from USA-Canada youth exchange network

Cultures Shocked: International Youth Exchange Forum

YEP-Online A place where Rotary Youth Exchange Students can meet

Rotary Youth Exchange for Britain & Ireland

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