9 December, 2023
Students set for cultural exchange
FROM sitting at their desk at St Stephen’s Catholic College to a classroom in Taiwan and Brazil, two Mareeba teenagers are preparing for the experience of a lifetime with the Rotary Youth Exchange Program.
Rafael Lalabalavu will be heading to Taiwan for a year next year, while Juliet Radke will be heading to Brazil for two and a half months, both keen to experience life from another perspective.
The two students will be swapping with students from their exchange countries, with their parents hosting a student from Taiwan and Brazil in Mareeba and Dimbulah.
This is the first time since Covid that Rotary International has done the exchange program, selecting students aged 15 to 19 across more than 100 countries, helping unlock their potential to develop lifelong leadership skills, learn a new language and culture, build lasting friendships with young people from around the world and become global citizens.
Being a last-minute fill-in, Juliet had only five months to prepare for the big shift in life, feeling a mixture of emotions in the process.
Jet setting off on Monday, the 16-year-old is particularly keen to experience Christmas and New Year in a new country.
“It will be a very big cultural change and it will be such an exciting experience for me,” she said.
“I am excited about all the food and the festivities because I will be there for Christmas and New Year, and I am just keen to see the entirety of Brazil.
“It seems like such an exotic place to me, and my family has never even been to America, let alone South America.”
With only a week to go, Juliet feels a mixture of excitement and keenness as the idea of living and attending school in another country settles in.
“I think all of the big emotions will come out at the airport, I am not feeling any sad or anxious feelings yet,” she said.
“I am just over the moon! I have been in contact with the family, and they are super nice people, so I am thrilled to get there.”
Rafael will get to experience Taiwan for a whole year, something that he is very keen to do.
Taiwan wasn’t his first preference when applying for the program, and he felt taken aback when learning that was the country he was going to.
“It definitely wasn’t the country I expected, and I hadn’t even taken notice of it during the application process, but I wasn’t upset or anything,” he said.
“I remember reading it in the kitchen on my phone, and I was telling my family, ‘Oh my gosh, Taiwan, that is so weird,’ and then once I did some research on the country, it really started to grow on me.”
Mostly excited to meet new friends, the 15-year-old is ready to see a whole new world and learn a new way of life.
“I am very excited to interact with different Rotarians and just engage in the Taiwanese culture because it looks fun,” he said.
Despite living in a completely different country for a year, Rafael said he is mainly anxious for the plane trip, taking off from Cairns on 19 January.
“I think I am only nervous about navigating my way through the terminals because I get super disorientated and the how long the flights are,” he said.
“I have only been on a plane once, and it was a four-hour flight to Fiji, and I could barely stand that. My coping mechanism will probably just be sleeping and eating, and that is it.”