Local boy takes part in Rotary Youth Exchange

John Skendzel, who would have been a senior this year at Marquette Senior High School, is taking part in Rotary Youth Exchange. He will spend time in Joetsu, Japan. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — John Skendzel might not have to necessarily be fluent in Japanese to get a lot out of his upcoming experience as an exchange student in that Asian country.

Skendzel, who would have been a senior at Marquette Senior High School this year, is a member of Rotary Youth Exchange, a worldwide organization. He spoke with The Mining Journal before leaving for Japan in mid-August.

“They bring young kids like myself and they send them across the globe as exchange students,” Skendzel said. “Basically, it’s in order to promote world peace and understanding through cultures.”

His overseas destination is the city of Joetsu, Japan.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for years,” Skendzel said, which prompted him to apply for the program.

In fact, he said his family has hosted an exchange student — twice. One student was from Thailand while the other was from India.

“It was interesting because I never had to explain stuff like American football or anything like that because everyone in America knows what it’s like and knows what it is,” Skendzel said.

So, Skendzel’s already had some first-hand multicultural experience and fun showing American culture to other people.

“For me, being someone who is very interested in learning about different cultures and learning different languages, it was amazing,” Skendzel said. “I got to make deep connections with these people who come from all over the world, connections that we usually don’t get to make in Marquette.”

He said the Thai and Indian students who lived with his family knew English, although not every exchange student knows the language that well.

“But by the time that they leave, they’re mostly fluent,” Skendzel said.

As far as his knowledge of Japanese goes, he acknowledged he knows just the basics.

“As of now, I can’t read or write Japanese,” Skendzel said.

However, instead of depending on a host family, he would rather rely on what little Japanese he knows so he can learn the language.

“They say the best host families are the ones that speak little to no English because then you’ll actually have to use your host language,” said Skendzel, who also speaks Spanish.

Being bilingual might help a little bit, but he pointed out that Japanese and Spanish are different languages.

Of course, his experience in Japan will involve more than mastering a new language. He will be immersed in its environment, culture and basic way of life.

“I’m excited for him,” said his mother, Melissa.

Did he choose Japan as his exchange country, or what it chosen for him? It was a bit of both, he said.

Skendzel had to provide a list of the top countries he wanted to visit, which was sent to the Central States Rotary Youth Exchange Program of which Michigan is a part.

His first choice was Brazil while Japan was second on his list.

Although Japan wasn’t his top choice, he had seen a Japanese presentation at a Rotary conference’s cultural fair in Minocqua, Wisconsin, which he called “really cool and interesting.”

“I am big into Latin American culture, so I wouldn’t even have listed Japan,” Skendzel said.

The culture fair, though, changed his mind.

Skendzel plans to finish his senior year by taking online classes, with his stay in Japan expected to last 10 to 11 months.

He also will have the opportunity to live with three different families during various portions of his stay.

Ellen Weingarten is the Youth Exchange officer for the Marquette Breakfast Rotary Club.

Weingarten said in an email that the Marquette Breakfast Rotary Club and the Rotary Club of Marquette recently sent Marquette Senior High School students Skendzel and Emma Bradley abroad for a year-long exchange to Japan and Brazil, respectively. The two clubs, as well as the Rotary of Club of Ishpeming, also welcomed four students — from Spain, Brazil, Taiwan and Chile — for a year-long exchange.

“These students join over 8,000 exchange students sponsored by their local Rotary Clubs from around the world,” Weingarten said.

Over 40 countries participate in the Youth Exchange program that, she said, is for high school-aged students who are interested in living and studying abroad for one year. Students stay with up to three host families during their year abroad.

The program goal is to promote the advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace at the person-to-person level, she said.

“Youth Exchange has a huge impact on these students, their friends and families and the people that support them,” Weingarten said. “They are given the opportunity to learn a new culture and language, to be an ambassador for their country and culture, and Rotary.

“But the biggest benefit is having the opportunity to develop independence and learn a new language. These are skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.”

Weingarten said that anyone interested in hosting a student or going through an exchange can contact one of three local Rotary Clubs: Marquette Breakfast, Rotary Club of Marquette, or the Rotary Club of Ishpeming, or send an email to ellen.weingarten@gmail.com.

“I just think it’s a great idea for kids, high school age like myself, to go on exchange because it opens up a whole new world of possibilities,” Skendzel said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.