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Michelle Fleury
Michelle Fleury
Education: North Hunterdon Regional High School
HomeTown: Annandale
Occupation: Foreign Exchange Student

Michelle Fleury

"If someone had told me during my sophomore year that I would be spending my next Thanksgiving on the beaches of Acapulco, or snorkeling in Cancun, even speaking Spanish, I would have called them crazy. It's hard to believe, but those are just some of the things I was able to do from September 2005 to June 2006 when I went to live in Mexico as a part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program. It was an unforgettable year."

"In 2005 I was a normal high school sophomore and was already sick of school. I was bored doing the same thing everyday. That's when a group of German exchange students came to my school, and I started thinking. How cool would it be to go live in another country? I talked it over with my mom and began searching for a way to do it. A friend of my mom's suggested the Rotary Club."

"Once we contacted the local Rotary Club and told them that I was interested, it was decision-making time. I had to decide if I wanted to participate in the three-month summer program or the ten-to-eleven-month full-semester program, and of course what country I'd like to stay in."

"You can't just pick a country and go there automatically. You have to research and choose your top three country choices. I chose my country based on what language I wanted to learn. It's amazing how much of a language you can master after only a year in a country, so this needs to be an important factor in your decision."

"Mexico was the perfect choice. I could learn Spanish, see beautiful places and it's close enough that I can go back to visit someday.  Once the business side was complete, I was ready to leave. I was scared and nervous, but I was so excited that it didn't matter. Once I got there I knew it was going to be great. It was so fun getting to Mexico and being immersed in the culture. Seeing the way other people live their lives is a very different experience. It makes you realize that there are other people in the world besides the people in your school and your family. The Mexican people tend to be more open than Americans; they say what's on their minds."

"The whole year is a breathtaking experience filled with fun and excitement. You meet tons of new people from all over the world, along with the natives of your host country. I really enjoyed the two road trips I took with the other exchange students in my district. In December we traveled to cities of the Mexican revolution like Guadalajara and San Miguel. We even spent four days in Acapulco. During the second trip in May we visited the Mayan and Aztec ruins, Veracruz and spent five days in Cancun."

"The best part of this experience has to be all the great people I have met. I can now say that I have friends in every part of the world. I formed incredible bonds with people after only one year. The other exchange students in my district were from Brazil, Germany, Hungary, Finland, France, Belgium, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland and the United States. And I know that each of them will always be in my heart. We lived together, worked together and taught each other. Those 33 people have changed my life forever."

"The Rotary Youth Exchange is supposed to be a learning experience but I never expected to come away from this year having learned the things I did--the first being when something is hard and you want to quit, stick through it. My first host family didn't speak a word of English, which meant I had to learn Spanish very quickly, but I did it. You're stronger than you think you are and quitting does nothing but take away the great times you could have had."

"I also began to understand the concept that we are all the same. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives that we forget about the other 6 billion people in the world. This experience has opened my eyes to that. There is so much more out there in the world and so many great people in every country. The little things like, 'Does this person like me?' or 'Will I pass this quiz?' don't matter as much anymore. Once you open your eyes and look around, you'll see. We're all on Earth together, and meeting and interacting with people around the world only makes it better."

"So if you're considering being an exchange student but you're scared, or even if you never knew about it before reading this, I encourage you to check it out. If it seems interesting to you, go for it. Not only does it look good when applying for college, but you will also love it!"