Lauren Kille of El Dorado Hills speaks fluent French. She also eats french fries with meatballs and rabbit sauce … and likes it, at least while living in Belgium. Instead of attending her junior year at Oak Ridge High School, the 17-year-old spent the school year abroad, studying at the College St. Habelin in Belgium as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program.
“The schooling atmosphere in Europe gives off a different vibe than anything I’ve ever seen in America. Their work ethic in Europe is amazing. When they go to school it’s only for school. There are no clubs; there are no sports. You have 12 classes a year and it’s like college — one big assignment and then an exam that determines whether you pass or not,” she recalled.
Lauren applied to be part of the exchange program in the summer of 2009 and after two years of waiting and planning she hopped on a plane to experience the “best year of [her] life.”
In Belgium, Lauren became fluent in French while speaking with her host family.
“My favorite experience of my entire trip was getting to know my host family. They really did become my family. I consider my host parents my real parents, and my host siblings, my real siblings,” she explained.
Lauren said she was surprised to see how studious her peers were, compared with those in America. In Belgium, students attend school from 8 a.m. to 4:10 p.m., study and do their homework until 9 p.m., eat then go to bed. They spend time with friends and do fun things over the weekend, but week nights are consumed with school.
“Now I know how to study correctly for taking as many classes as I am, and for taking as many AP classes this year. It’s given me a better work ethic,” she said.
In her free time Lauren played volleyball at a local club with her with her host sisters. She also kept up with the latest fashions, which she brought home to wear in America.
“I left America with 80 pounds of clothes, I came back with about 120 pounds of clothes!” she said. “Belgian girls dress really fashionably. I guess I dress better than I did when I left!”
Before her trip abroad, Lauren had only been to the Caribbean and Mexico on cruises, and a trip to Canada. But now, she said she hopes to expand her horizons by traveling more.
“I caught the travel bug. Once you start traveling you never stop,” she said. “I made so many connections with people that live all over the place. If I wanted to go to these places they’ve invited me to come to their home.”
Her first stop? Belgium, to visit her host family again. She said she continues to e-mail them almost every day.
“I love them to death,” she said. “They’re the people I’m going to have at my wedding, the people that will be there for my entire life.”
Lauren also went on a trip to Italy for 11 days during her stay as well, joining a tour group with 75 to 80 other students. “That was probably the most touristy thing I’ve ever done,” she said.
Miraculously, Lauren told her sponsoring Rotary Club of El Dorado Hills she ate pasta all 11 days in Italy but didn’t gain a pound thanks to all the walking. Unfortunately, she added, she couldn’t say the same thing fro the rest of the trip; perhaps that 12-pound jar of Nutella is to blame.
Lauren also was able to visit different cities in Belgium, as well as Germany.
In addition to filling her passport with stamps, the trip helped Lauren solidify her post-high school plans. The high school senior said she wants to attend college in the San Diego area and join the ROTC Navy program. She said she hopes to major in aeronautical engineering and nursing, plans to become an F-18 pilot, with a minor in French — a relatively easy task, now that she is fluent in the language.
To any students considering a study-abroad program, Lauren enthusiastically said, “Rotary Youth Exchange is the best program out there.”
Interested in becoming a Rotary Youth Exchange student? The El Dorado Hills Rotary Club participates in the long-term Youth Exchange program, open to qualified young men and women between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. The exchange involves students living with two to three host families abroad and attending a local high school for one year.
Students must apply by Oct. 15 for the following school year. Rotary has an extensive selection and orientation process, which helps identify the best candidates and prepare them well for their time as Youth Exchange students. The El Dorado Hills Rotary will be holding interviews for prospective outbound students in mid-October. Rotary is also looking for families to host an inbound student for three months next school year. Host families should live within the Oak Ridge High School boundary.
For more information call Lourdes Edralin at (530)626-2675 or e-mail [email protected].