Around 55 students from the Rotary Youth Exchange program will travel to Marietta this weekend from Columbus and parts of southeastern Ohio for service projects, camaraderie and training.
Every year, the Rotary Youth Exchange program sponsors around 8,000 exchange students, mostly high school juniors and seniors, said Marietta Noon Rotary Club member David Vandenberg.
Vandenberg, who organized this weekend's event, said the goal is to promote the club's motto of "service above self" and to further promote international relations.
"The goal of this particular mission in rotary is to foster international peace and understanding and cultural acceptance," said Vandenberg.
Vandenberg is also hoping to generate a renewed interest in the program locally.
"The reason I'm promoting this is because the Marietta Rotary Club used to sponsor international students," said Vandenberg.
Marietta currently has no inbound students visiting from other countries. Though he can not remember the last time the Marietta Rotary Club actively sponsored inbound exchange students, Vandenberg estimates that it has been more than 20 years.
"We need to find out if people are interested in hosting students," said Vandenberg.
Additionally, the club members hope to find more local students who are interested in going abroad.
Currently, Marietta does have one outbound student. Vandenberg's daughter, Emilie, is on exchange in Ecuador.
"Their parents do not have to be Rotarians," said Vandenberg.
Host families do not need to be Rotary members either, but potential host families do have to submit to a background check.
Though there is some cost associated with it, the Rotary Club subsidized the exchange program so it typically costs half of what other exchange programs do, said Vandenberg.
The short term program, a one month summer program, typically costs $600 plus airfare. The long term program, which lasts 11 months, typically costs $6,000 or less, said Walter Lundstrom, outbound chair for the district's Rotary Youth Exchange Program.
The students visiting this weekend are from Rotary District 6690, which encompasses Columbus, Marietta and much of southeastern Ohio. They are part of the club's longterm exchange program, which lasts a full year. Of the visitors, 14 are inbound, representing a dozen countries, including Hungary, Germany, Ecuador, Turkey and France. The other participants are students from the district who are training to go outbound next year, said Vandenberg.
"We also invite what we call rebounds, the kids that were on exchange last year," said Vandenberg.
The rebounds are good resources for the youth currently on exchange or training to go abroad, he explained.
The exchange students will arrive in Marietta Saturday and participate in service projects at the Boys and Girls Club, The Ely Chapman Education Foundation and The House of Hope. They will also take a walking tour highlighting the history of Marietta and attend the ArcheDream for Humankind performance at Washington State Community College, part of the Evergreen Arts & Humanities Series.
"Part of the program is about learning about new cultures," said Vandenberg.
Students who end up participating in the long term exchange program are expected to make a presentation to their local rotary club about their experience upon return.
"This is such a life changer. These students in the long term program they are only gone for 11 months, but we say when they come back it is like they have matured seven years," said Lundstrom.
This weekend's visit will conclude with a lock-in at the Marietta Family YMCA, where the students will have fun and enjoy the fellowship of the other participants, said Vandenberg.
Students interested in traveling abroad or families who would like to host an international student should contact a member of the Marietta Rotary Club or visit the local Rotary Youth exchange website, www.rotaryyouthexchange6690.org, for more information.