The Rotary Club of Whistler Millennium has chosen its first local student in five years to take part in the organization's internationally revered Youth Exchange Program.
Caitlin Patterson, a Grade 9 student at Whistler Secondary School, will be travelling abroad for just over 10 months later this year as part of the revived program.
"One of the reasons we were so interested in Caitlin is because she's explored so many avenues on her own," said Diane Maskell with the club. "It was her adventurous spirit that really singled her out in our mind. We had some excellent candidates apply."
There are currently 8,500 – 9,000 rotary exchange students taking part in the program around the world. Whistler has sent 10 students abroad — funding tuition, pocket money and the costs to keep the program going, in conjunction with the host rotary branch — until 2009. At that time, many potential host families were busy volunteering for the Olympics and couldn't accommodate any students from abroad.
"Trying to get back in the program has taken about three years," Maskell said. "We needed to find three or four host families and everyone was busy."
Finally, the program is back on track with Patterson slated to leave for a yet-to-be-determined destination in August. She said it's been a long-time dream to attend school overseas.
"My family has hosted students with the Tamwood (International) School for about 10 years and so I've experienced so many different cultures in my household," she said. "I've wanted to go on exchange since I was very young."
Patterson was selected after an extensive application process, which included interviews, an essay and references. She was officially announced as the top choice at the club's annual Weekend On the Mountain event — which brings Rotary exchange students to Whistler to ski courtesy of Whistler Blackcomb — on Saturday evening.
Her top three picks for destinations include Belgium, France and Germany. Having studied French since she was in Grade 5, Patterson is hoping if she's sent to the first two countries she can become fluent in that language.
"I (met) a student last year from Germany and she was so nice and I started to learn a bit of German with a course online," she added. "So I was very interested in that too."
While exchange students attend public school in their new country, often they have to make up courses back home to meet provincial education standards. But, added Maskell, Whistler Secondary School principal Bev Oakley has been supportive of the program and offered options for students to keep up with some schoolwork online.
It's a sacrifice, but "it will definitely be worth every second," said Patterson.
Her mother, Jennifer, agreed.
"I'm just so pleased that Caitlin is ready to make this decision at this young age," she said. "There are some people who can go a long time following their friends and peers not stopping to think about what they want to do. This program really supports that."