Two girls with family connections to Rotary International exchange programmes are getting ready to leave Monticello after nine months in the community thanks to Monticello Rotarians.
Monticello will always hold a special place in the hearts of Giovanna Salviano Barretto of Brazil and Pia Hoelsken of Germany, the girls said.
“I feel right at home here,” Pia said.
“Now I have two places where I feel at home,” Gia said.
Both will participate in the June 1 Monticello High School graduation ceremony before embarking on a 3-week tour of the eastern United States with other Rotarian exchange students.
The girls are in Monticello through Rotary’s North Star Exchange, which coordinates exchange programmes for Rotary Districts 5950 and 5960.
The Monticello Rotary Club is a member of District 5950 (Minnesota, US) which represents Minneapolis, the western suburbs and cities northwest of the Twin Cities metro area.
For Gia, coming to Monticello was a journey that began more than two decades ago.
For Pia, the seeds to her journey were planted more recently.
Gia’s grandfather was a Rotarian with the Rotary Club de Araçatuba Leste in São Paulo, Brazil.
“My mom was an exchange student and went to Illinois with the Herrin Rotary Club,” Gia said.
Her uncles were also Rotary exchange students.
Rotary is in the family’s blood, and Gia wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“I grew up where there was always talk of Rotary,” Gia said. “I wanted to be the next exchange student.”
There was no doubt that if Gia was going to study abroad, it was going to be through Rotary.
“My mom only trusts Rotary. Because she experienced the programme, she believes it gives better support and service,” she said.
A friend of Gia’s mom is a Rotarian in São Paulo and was an exchange student. She helped Gia through the application process.
Pia also followed a family member towards an exchange student experience.
“My sister did a short programme to Brazil, close to São Paulo,” Pia said.
Pia said she had previously thought about becoming an exchange student, but thought being away for a whole school year was too long.
“My sister went and said it was totally worth it – but the stay was too short,” Pia said.
Pia was convinced to join the full-year exchange programme.
Since Pia and her sister have become exchange students, their mother – a pediatrician- has joined the Willich Rotary Club, which is in District 1870.
Their father- a vascular surgeon- has wanted to join Rotary, but has been too busy with his work schedule, Pia said.
Family connections to Rotary aside, both girls were passionate about being Rotary exchange students for similar reasons.
They liked Rotary’s service programmes, the 3-week trip at the end of the school year, and the fact that Rotary exchange students stay with three different host families throughout the year.
Pia stayed with the Matt and Mary Lemke family,
the Bruce and Robin Balder-Lanove family and the Andrew and Kim Tapper family.
Gia stayed with the Bryon and Monica Martin family, the David and Amy Nystuen family and the Chad and Becky Artur family.
The girls have enjoyed the service projects the Monticello Rotary Club has undertaken in their year with the Rotarians.
The handed out dictionaries to elementary school students, and sang Christmas songs at the Monticello Senior Centre.
They assisted with the Club’s Safe Drive programme, worked at the Rotary Fish Fry, and collected food for the Monticello Help Centre.
They volunteered at the Help Centre through Rotary, too.
When the girls weren’t being kept busy with Rotary projects, it was their host families filling their time abroad with memorable experiences.
Pia traveled to Lake Havasu, and Texas with her host family, and had an opportunity to ski in Colorado.
She enjoyed the Minnesota State Fair, and additional skiing here in Minnesota.
She also became a hockey fan, with four of her host family’s children playing the sport.
Gia went to the Minnesota State Fair and the Super Bowl Experience here in Minnesota.
She traveled to Wisconsin, and saw Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.
During Christmas break, her host family took Gia to Florida.
She got to go sledding for the first time and accomplished one of her goals she set for her visit to Minnesota – building a snowman.
She also went to South Dakota State University, Wichita, Kansas, and Minot, North Dakota.
Just like their host families, the members of the Monticello Rotary Club are dear to the girls’ hearts.
“They took care of us,” Pia said. “They were always so nice. They were awesome.”
Gia said the local Rotary members were great.
“You couldn’t ask for a better club to visit,” she said.
“I’m sure going to miss them,” Gia said.
Both girls said Rotary members were always there when they needed them and that the Rotarians were always there for them, just as their host families were.
Source: Monticello Times