On Tuesday, the Courtenay Rotary Club hosted four globetrotting students at their weekly meeting to hear tales of overseas life and tout an international exchange program.

Of the four students, two delivered speeches: Sasha Pariy of the Ukraine, who will be spending the coming year in the Comox Valley, and the Valley's own Arlie Christie, who recently returned home from a year in France.
All the students are sponsored by the Rotary International Youth Exchange Program, a cooperative effort among rotary clubs worldwide. Students are sent out of their communities to spend a year abroad, and hosted by sponsor families.

Pariy spoke for several minutes about her native Ukraine, including the country's history, demographics, agriculture and some of its better-known landmarks. The soft-spoken teen, who has studied English for 11 years, spoke of her desire to learn more about Canada.

Arlie Christie, however, delivered the barnburner of the afternoon, providing detailed photos and stories of her time in Europe and, more often than not, keeping the audience in stitches.

Christie arrived in the French city of Rouen in August 2009, which has a population of 110,275 and bears the distinction of being the place where Joan of Arc met her fate. When she wasn't taking classes, Christie would take field trips to Paris, take holidays in western France, and travel across Europe.

Her travels took her to holiday spots in Italy, including Venice, and to Munich, Germany. One audience member wondered aloud exactly when Christie had time to study.

"I cried more at the end of Eurotrip than I did when I said goodbye to my family," cracked Christie.

She also had the crowd howling with laughter when she told the audience how she whittled a t-shirt down to 13 euros from 20 by telling a European vendor: "[That] it was my birthday, and that I hadn't seen my family in 10 months." She paused. "And that I was alone."

Despite all the distractions, and the fact that Christie will have to take a couple of extra classes to catch up with her Courtenay classmates (she was allowed to drop French math class), Christie can now speak fluent French and has seen historical buildings and places in person; things most of her classmates can only read about in books. Near the end of her talk to the Club, she expressed her gratitude to the audience.

"You have given me a gift, one that will follow for a lifetime," she said. "I want to say this exchange has changed my life and changed the lives of so many others," she said emotionally.

Shannon Boyle of Courtenay will be heading to Italy in August 2011 for one year and said she was looking forward to meeting her host family and learning to speak Italian.

The Rotary Clubs in the Comox Valley are looking for students to send oversees in August 2011 for one year, and for a one month exchange program called STEP. Randy Wiwchar of the Courtenay Rotary Club said the clubs are looking for applications from well-rounded students who have a good sense of public service.

Interested students should keep their eyes peeled for announcements and sign up tables at Vanier Secondary and Mark Isfeld Secondary.

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