For over 3 decades the Rotary Club of Soldotna has been a participant of the Rotary Youth Exchange program that host’s and sends students to and from other countries for a one year academic and social exchange. The Youth Exchange Program is a study-abroad opportunity for young people who spend a year as an international ambassador hosted by a local Rotary Club. The exchange is for people youth 15-17 years of age who have demonstrated leadership in their schools and are flexible and willing to try new things.
On two consecutive evenings last week Rotarians and friends gathered at the Kenai Airport to bid farewell to Mauro Lotito from Chile and welcome returning KCHS student Tacy Caldwell home from her year in Brazil. “I learned that Americans are nothing like Hollywood portraits them.
My first surprise when I arrived at night was that it was still light. That only happens in Alaska. The language was hard in the beginning but I had so many friends to help me and I worked hard got better,” Mauro told the Dispatch in an interview. “I did a lot of cool stuff, skiing, cliff diving, snow machining, I even came to within 6 feet of a bear when in the woods, but the most exciting part of the year was by far the friends I made here, that was the best,” said Lotito. As he prepared to return to Chile last week that was very apparent as about a dozen of his Skyview classmates showed up at the Kenai airport to bid Mauro farewell. Last Spring the Skyview Panthers played their last high school football game so the helmets of the players on that team are a historic and highly prized item of memorabilia as there will be no more.
When Mauro was presented with his friend Logan Hinz’s helmet for him to take back to Chile as a token of their friendship it was an emotional time for everyone, Mauro, parents, friends and Rotarians who gathered at the airport to bid their son and friend farewell.
Mauro was a true ambassador of his country while learning to love Alaska and the USA. During his stay Mauro stated “I learned from my first host dad to have fun while working hard helping out and not to be afraid of making mistakes.” That counsel set the stage for his success story as an exchange student. He ventured into taking risks, learning the language, making friends, taking the opportunity of extra classes offered at Skyview High such us woodworking and metals and in his spare time raised $1,000 for the international Shelter Box program that provides first response anywhere in the world a natural disaster occurs.
“It is truly amazing to see these young people mature into secure, bicultural and bilingual young adults returning to their home land,” said Tacy Caldwell’s mother Gail when her daughter whom she hadn’t seen in a year returned the following evening. Calwell is now fluent in Portuguese ready to give back to the community as a mature young woman. “Being in Brazil during ‘La Copa Mundo’ (Soccer World Cup) was terrific even though ‘we Brazil’ lost to Germany she said. Tacy is looking forward to finding folks who speak Portuguese and is willing to teach in order to maintain her second language. Upon her arrival at the Kenai Airport Tacy was greeted by family, friends and Soldotna Rotarians.