Passport to Adventure
Diary of an exchange year
Originally published in ROTARY Magazine, Sept. 2020
In 2002-03, Lorena Soria traveled from Ambato, Ecuador, to to Ogallala, Nebraska, as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. Afterward, she returned home to Ecuador for college. On a visit to Nebraska for a friend’s wedding, she met David Beckius. After dating long distance, the couple married; they have twin four-year-old boys, and Lore Beckius was 2019-20 president of the Rotary Club of Ogallala — the same club that hosted her 18 years ago. She shares here some highlights from her exchange year.
Today is the day. My mom cried all the way to the airport. I was crying too, but I gave her a hug, dried my tears, and went through security. When I got off the plane, my host family was waiting for me, holding a sign that read “Welcome home.” My host mom’s name is Michelle, and she has two daughters, Heide and Mallory. When we pulled up to their house, I was surprised at how big and how nice it is. I even have my own room and bathroom!
My host sisters and their friends asked me lots of questions. They don’t know much about Ecuador. I told them we have volcanos and so much natural beauty. I’m using my pocket dictionary all the time. I don’t understand any of the slang that Americans use, and their accent is so different from the British English I learned in school.
I went to a Rotary meeting and met my Youth Exchange adviser. I also visited my new school. I will take U.S. history, geography, English, chemistry, and math. I also picked a few electives. I can’t believe all the fun classes they have here. We don’t have choir or cooking or anything like that in Ecuador. My host family also took me into town. Front Street looks like something out of an old Western movie.
I started school today. I was so worried about what to wear. I’ve never gone to a school where I didn’t have to wear a uniform. Mallory is a junior, and she drove me and Heide, who’s a sophomore, to school. I was nervous, but the other students were nice. When they said hi, I kept leaning forward to give kisses — but they don’t do that here. I’m learning to say, “Hey, what’s up?” and give a little wave instead.
My host mom told me I should try out for the school play. That is something I would never have done at home. The play is called A Service for Jeremy Wong, and it’s about the killing of a gay high school boy.
Today, a really cute and popular boy said, “Hey, what’s up?” to me.
I replied, “Good!”
But I think that was wrong. I asked Mallory what to say so I’ll be ready next time.
I’m getting into a routine.
I have basketball practice after school.
I go with my host sisters to all the volleyball games. On Friday and Saturday nights, we go “cruising.” It’s so much fun. We drive up and down Highway 30 and listen to music.
It’s almost Christmas!
It makes me a little homesick. Christmas is such an important time in Ecuador.
I learned that I will switch host families on 23 December. I’m going to miss Mallory and Heide. The next family I’m staying with has three younger boys.
I went to the Catholic church here twice on Christmas Eve. It makes me feel better to be surrounded by familiar traditions.
On Christmas morning, there were so many presents with my name on them under the tree. My new family is trying to make me feel at home, but I don’t know them yet, so I feel a little awkward.
I’ve become close to my new host mom. We go shopping together and get manicures. She always tells me how happy she is to have another girl in the house. And she is a really good cook. She’s always baking something.
My host mom includes me in everything she does for the boys, like presents for Valentine’s Day.
I talk to my family in Ecuador about once a month.
One thing I like about my high school is that everyone seems to get along. The kids ask me about Ecuador. Some want to learn the bad words in Spanish, and I did get in trouble for teaching them a few.
My English has gotten much better. I’ve even started dreaming in English.
I’m so busy with speech competitions, choir, basketball, and tennis that it’s hard to even have time to think about things back home in Ecuador.
I’m living out in the country now with my third host family, which has five girls, so it can be a little tough to get time in the bathroom to get ready for school! I’m looking forward to going to prom next month. I’m going with a group of girls, and I already have a dress. We don’t have prom in Ecuador, so this feels like a special American thing to experience.
It’s a lot of fun living in this family with so many girls. I get along very well with their oldest daughter, who is a high school freshman. We go to the movies together and hang out.
I had so much fun at prom! We danced and danced. I felt like a movie star.
Graduation is here.
My parents traveled to Nebraska for the ceremony.
Even though our principal practiced saying my name, he still mispronounced it. But it was so exciting to get my diploma! He also gave me a little American flag.
We went to watch the Fourth of July fireworks, and the song “Proud to Be an American” gave me goosebumps.
I go home this month.
My exchange has helped me to grow up and be ready to live on my own. I am so proud that I was able to make it through one year by myself.
I’m home now, and it’s weird to be back.
My parents talk to me in Spanish, and I find myself accidentally answering them in English.
My friend Serena came from Ogallala for a visit. We keep in touch online, and I can’t wait to go back to visit.
Did you know?
- In 2018-19, 70 percent of exchanges were long term, lasting a full academic year.
- 91 percent of Rotary districts are certified to participate in Rotary Youth Exchange, but only 16 percent of clubs sent or hosted students.
- 5,768 Rotary clubs participated in Rotary Youth Exchange.
(Figures do not include information about the program in Germany.)
- Learn about how Rotary Youth Exchange began HERE, Rotary through the Years.