I’m not sure if I’ve shared this before but I’m a member of Rotary International. In fact, up until Sunday, I was the club president for my morning Rotary club here in Duncan and am now immediate past president. The ideals of Rotary are ones I appreciate because they promote care and understanding both locally and internationally; something I’ve always tried to teach my kids.
One of the programs within Rotary that I think is so vital is the Youth Exchange Program. This program has many different options from summer exchanges through to full year placements world-wide. My oldest daughter decided to do the summer exchange program this year which means that we get a student for a full month at the same time as my daughter and then they go together to the other student’s home. In our case, we have a student from just outside Paris who arrived last night and both my daughter and this teen will go to France July 28th. My daughter will then come back alone on August 22nd.
Rob and I have always advocated travel with our children as we believe that it opens up understanding between cultures and allows one to learn so many things that cannot be taught with books. However, it is a challenge to travel with food allergies, even when traveling in your own country. For that reason, we always planned on having our oldest child participate in a Rotary exchange (she’s outgrown her food allergies and only has drug allergies now) but never felt comfortable with our youngest child and her 4 food allergies going on an exchange. We may need to rethink that.
The 15 year old that we brought to our home last night has many allergies, including to animals and a life-threatening peanut allergy. The original family that she had been paired with was unable to accommodate these allergies and so she inadvertently got paired with ours instead. It was a very fortuitous pairing since I’m allergic to animals and my youngest is allergic to peanuts; our house is a haven for our French teen. Her parents were very relieved as we’ve arranged everything through emails over the last few months. It also helps that our family speaks French and the French student speaks very good English – so no language barrier there.
But that takes a lot of faith for our French student’s family to trust another family halfway across the world with a life-threatening food allergy. I’m not sure I’d be up for that. Until our student was coming, my food allergic child also did not feel comfortable with applying for the Rotary Youth Exchange program as she thought that there was no way she would be able to find a family who she would feel safe with. And yet, our French teen’s family found just that with us.
Is it too much to expect that we might find someone who had food allergies too within the Rotary Youth Exchange Program? And what about the language barrier that is often present? We can rank our preferences for the country our child goes but that’s not always guaranteed. Right now, there are too many uncertainties for me to feel comfortable but am I placing limits on our food allergic child that are unreasonable if she feels comfortable? Next summer she would be almost 16 and at some point I have to be able to let go but is that first step sending her halfway across the world?
What do you think?