CAMDENTON, Mo. -- What is one of the things 16-year-old Katie Barnstable is looking forward to most in her nearly yearlong, temporary residency in Italy?
"Eating a lot of different food," she said with a laugh. "Seriously, I am very excited to experience a different culture. I have never been to Europe, so that is going to be really amazing."
For Barnstable, living in Italy is not an extended vacation. It is full-blown educational, social and cultural experience she will receive as part of the South Central Rotary Youth Exchange program, locally spearheaded by the Camdenton Rotary Club.
Camdenton High School students and recent graduates Barnstable, Cassidy Zwart and Chloe Schmidt are living with host families, attending school and indulging in the local culture at various countries around the world.
The three were selected to be among more than 8,000 students who become youth ambassadors in the Rotary International Youth Exchange program each year.
Local Rotarians from the Lake of the Ozarks area were able to meet Barnstable and Zwart, as well as two students from other countries in the program who are attending Camdenton High School this year, at the Power of Four meeting Aug. 13 at Old Kinderhook in Camdenton.
The Power of Four meeting takes place quarterly and allows each of the four Lake Area Rotary chapters in District 6080 - Camdenton, Laurie-Sunrise Beach, Lake Ozark Daybreak and Lake Ozark (Noon) - to share updates on current projects, programs and ideas to work together for their charitable efforts.
"(The Camdenton Rotary) has been involved in (Rotary International) Youth Exchange for nine years and sent 14-15 students overseas," Camdenton Rotary President Mark House said. "The students stay with families overseas, and the inbound students here in Camdenton also stay with host families. While studying abroad, all the students are youth ambassadors. Those who are host families here can show the international students what America is all about and what wonderful people we have here, just like our local students who represent America overseas."
House said even though some Youth Exchange program students spend a few weeks overseas, the Camdenton students and international students spend a year at their assigned
destinations. During that time, they not only attend school and experience the local culture and customs. They also have the opportunity to build relationships and absorb knowledge from Rotarians.
"For students looking at the upcoming year for the program, the application deadline is Oct. 1. (This) Friday, we'll meet with the kids at the school to get interest in program," he said, noting students must be between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. "That way they have time to talk to their parents, talk more about it with us and submit their application."
House said the application process is intense and competitive. The students and parents each write an essay along with their application in why they should be involved in the Youth Exchange program. In October, House and other Rotarians will interview applicants, their parents and teachers. They will then make their recommendations to the Rotary District 6080, who will also conduct interviews in early November and select the students accepted into the program.
"I believe we had six to seven applicants locally and 10 kids overall are participating this year from our district," he said. "It is very competitive, and that is why we start the ball rolling early to give the students plenty of time to prepare."
The Camdenton Rotary also holds two fundraisers that help contribute to the overall $4,000 cost per student involved in Youth Exchange. This amount covers airfare, insurance, travel documents, spending money, additional travel and tour fees.
The first fundraiser, the Wine Pairing Dinner is at 6 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Old Kinderhook Banquet Center in Camdenton. The second fundraiser is the Beer Pairing Dinner in March. House said this year they plan to have a Samuel Adams brew master on hand, making special beers that are only available at this event. Both events' admission is $50 per person, and additional details will be released closer to the events.
"We give each student at least $1,000 toward the overall cost each year," House said.
For Schmidt, who is already in Brazil, she will be beginning her school year soon. Zwart will leave Sept. 4 for Spain, where she will be based in central Madrid, and Barnstable will depart Aug. 29 for Italy, where students attend high school for five years.
Even though Barnstable doesn't need any credits to complete her senior year at home, the perk of the Youth Exchange program allows students to transfer some credits earned studying aboard to their respective schools back home.
The Camdenton Rotary is in need of host families for its Youth Exchange program. Families will host a student for 14 weeks during their time in Missouri. Candidates must reside in the Camdenton R-3 School District and will undergo a background check and house visit during the interview process.
If interested in being a host family or participating in the Youth Exchange program, contact House at 573-348-1818 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.