Rotary youth exchange builds confidence, helps communities

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Céline Hof is excited to go back to the Netherlands but sad to leave the community she called home for the last 11 months.

“It’s a great experience and I get to have a second home somewhere,” Hof explained after presenting a report to the Rotary Club of Cochrane on Tuesday outlining her almost yearlong trip.

Hof arrived in Canada last September as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program and lived with four different families during her time in Cochrane.

Getting involved in the Canadian culture, Hof teared up as she shared her adventures to a crowd of Rotarians. Those adventures included snowshoeing, dog sledding, ice-skating, curling, celebrating Halloween in Water Valley and also attending Calgary’s ScreamFest, watching hockey which she “didn’t really understand,” picnicking in the mountains for Christmas and New Year’s countdowns for all the countries with other Rotary exchange students on Dec. 31.

“You learn so much about the world and (create) understanding with other cultures,” Hof said.

Being the only exchange student in Cochrane and attending Cochrane High School, Hof said she did make friends at the school but made closer connections through the exchange program with the other exchange students living in southern Alberta.

“I was really scared about adapting but I surprised myself,” Hof explained.

Some life-changing experiences Hof talked about included a trip to Mexico where she helped build houses and a recent trip to the Rocky Mountains where she hiked for four days and slept in the mountains for three nights.

Hof was also part of the fundraising crew in the Rotary Club District 5360 where the team raised close to $40,000 for the shelter box project – a project started in 2000 where essentials are added to a box and delivered to countries in need of disaster relief.

Coming to Canada for the first time by herself at only 18-years-old (with a birthday next Wednesday), Hof said the exchange also changed her life by making her more interested in travelling, more independent and helped her fluency in English.

“I was scared to leave but you get so much back,” Hof said.

“Don’t say no to anything – you create your experience.”

The advice did not fall on deaf ears as the 15-year-old Cochranite who is gearing up to head to Italy in September was also in attendance.

“I’m very excited,” said Tianna Davidson.

“I’m hoping to learn so much about different people, the culture and the food – I’m really excited for the food.”

For more information about the Rotary Youth Exchange program, go to rotarycochrane.ca.

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