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Program run by Rotary International to take students between the ages of 15 and 19 to countries around the globe. There are actually two separate RYE programs: the "short-term" program, which lasts for three to four weeks, and the "long-term" program, which lasts for an academic year. The two programs combined draw about 7,000 students each year.

Here's how it works in a nutshell. Prospective students apply to a youth exchange committee in their home Rotary district. Each student gets a first, second, and third choice of destination, which is really more of a guideline than anything else (I chose Japan and got it: one of my friends chose Belize, New Zealand, and Venezuela, and ended up in Japan). The home district then finds a host district to send the student to, and the host district takes over from there, putting the student in the care of a Rotary club that arranges for their host families, school, and the like.

In the US, the application process is very lax, and just about anyone who applies will get in. In Europe and Asia, however, it is very difficult to get into the program unless you have a Rotarian in your immediate family.

Most RYE students go to completely foreign countries. There are some wusses who go from America to Britain, or some equally tame combination, but for the most part a Rotary exchange student is expected to be a stranger in a strange land. Prior language proficiency is not required but it is highly recommended: however, students are almost never sent to a country where they are completely fluent in the native language, because that makes the program seem kind of pointless. The biggest countries for RYE seem to be the United States, Belgium, Germany, France, Finland, Brazil, and Japan, but the program extends to most countries with Rotary infrastructure. (You can't go to North Korea or Bhutan, in other words.)

Students pay for their own airfare and insurance. Rotary gives them a host family and a school for free, as well as a stipend of about $100 a month.

Theoretically, an RYE student is supposed to be a "cultural ambassador." In practice, RYE students tend to be drunken obnoxious teenagers (as evidenced by the Rotary exchange student song). The exchangers in Western Europe are the most notorious for this: their annual Eurotour, a giant bus tour around the continent, invariably involves several overdoses and other altercations. In an attempt to stop this, Rotary instituted a "four D's" rule: no drinking, drugs, driving, or dating. Some exchangers, at least the ones I hung out with, came to refer to all four activities as "breaking a D."

Other than that, individual experiences with RYE are wildly varying. Some people go home early because being in a foreign country pisses them off. Some people are enlightened by the experience and end up becoming foreign service officers or translators or—gasp—Roger Ebert.

The best thing about RYE, in comparison to other exchange programs, is that it's not for profit: not only do you save money, but you also know that you're at the mercy of philanthropists as opposed to business. And if you're already too old for it, there's always the Ambassadorial Scholarship.


RYE alumni on e2 include sekicho and zomahon (Japan), Zero Signal (Sweden) and newmonster (Germany). If you happen to be an RYE alumnus, /msg me so I can add you to the list.