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Rotary exchange creates “a life in a year”

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By Tavia Teitler

Sopris Sun Contributor

Last year, while her classmates were making their way through their senior year of high school, Briana Boland was across the world, taking a different approach to her education. Boland recently returned from Taipei, Taiwan, where she spent the year as a Rotary exchange student. The exchange turned out to be an incredible and life changing experience for Boland; she has returned from her year abroad with a new language, new friends and a slew of new experiences.

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“Going in I really didn’t know anything much about Taiwan,” Boland said. “I didn’t understand anything that was going on and everything seemed so weird. It’s really a completely different world.”

Upon arriving, Boland moved in with the first of three host families; a family of seven in which only one member spoke English. In situations like these, “you get very good at charades,” Boland joked. Further immersing herself in the culture of Taiwan, Boland quickly enrolled in the local public high school. Despite the fact that she was technically a senior, she entered as a sophomore in order to learn the language. Boland also attended morning culture and language classes with other Rotary exchange students staying in Taipei.  

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The lessons Boland learned were by no means limited to the classroom, encompassing everything from “how to eat a lot of weird food” and “how to go with the flow,” to the development of a new sense of independence. “You have to learn … [how to] just figure things out, because a lot of times it’s not necessarily explained to you,” Boland said.

The Rotary Club has a saying about exchange: “It’s not a year in your life, it’s a life in a year.” This saying seems to do a good job of describing Boland’s experience. “It’s really true because you get there and you don’t know anything. You can’t speak, you don’t know any people, you don’t know where to go, and then you learn, and by the end of the year your entire life is there,” Boland said.

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One component of this life was the other exchange students she met. As Taipei is a large city, Boland was surrounded by other Rotary exchange students from all over the world. “You learn about all of these different places just from the people that you meet. The exchange students I met there … were not just my friends, they were my family.”

Boland strongly encourages other students to go on exchanges as well and was full of advice for future exchange students. “Never say no to anything,” she recommended. “Do everything you can, try everything you can because really, [your exchange] goes so fast.”

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Boland wanted to make sure that a thank you was extended to the members of the Rotary Club that made her exchange happen and helped her through it.

Her Taiwanese “life in a year” may be in her past, but its impact carries well into her future. She is now conversationally fluent in Mandarin Chinese and plans to minor in Mandarin when she attends Fordham University in the fall. Her exchange also left her with a brightened, broadened worldview. “[Going on an exchange] really changes your perspective so much … my whole life I’ve been in this tiny little valley and that was my world,” Boland said, “but now my world is enormous!”

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Tavia Teitler, 15, is one of The Sopris Sun’s two summer interns. She’ll be a junior at Roaring Fork High School this year.

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Published in The Sopris Sun on August 20, 2015.