Okotoks youth heading overseas

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An Okotoks student is about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.

Abbigale Kunz is heading to the Netherlands for one year on a Rotary Exchange. She’ll be taking up residence in Lelystad, just 20 minutes east of Amsterdam.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” said Kunz. “It kind of feels like it’s coming really quick, especially now that I’m down to the last 28 days or so.”

The Grade 11 Foothills Composite High School student decided on a whim to join an exchange program about a year ago, and began researching different ways to find herself living and studying abroad. Being accepted for the Rotary Exchange was a dream come true, she said.

That’s when the work began. She attended several meetings and interviews in preparation for a year away from home.

“We had these long one-hour interviews where they basically just kind of asked us all these question about how we would handle different emotional changes while we’re away,” said Kunz.

At the end of the meeting, all exchange students were asked to write down their top three destination choices. Kunz said she was thrilled when she heard she would be going to the Netherlands, which was her top pick.

“I’d told them in the interview I don’t really care where I went, I just want to go somewhere and get the experience,” she said.

She said she’s looking forward to learning a second language and being submerged in a new culture. She’s also excited about trying new foods, she said.

Kunz said she’s trying not to think too much about everything she’ll see and do while she’s there, because she doesn’t want to go in with high expectations.

“I’m trying to lower my expectations as much as possible so everything is like new,” she said.

While she’s excited about the opportunity, Kunz said she’s a little nervous about attending school in a foreign country. The school system in the Netherlands is different from Alberta, so she said it will be interesting to see how things are done.

She’s also curious to learn all the cultural differences, she said.

“I know there are a lot of social constructs that are developed here that don’t exist there, so that’s going to be kind of a shift,” said Kunz. “Overall, I’m nervous but I think I’ll be able to handle it well.”

She said she’ll miss her family, because they’re all close. Rotary Exchange students are encouraged to talk to their families about once per week, because contacting home too often makes it harder to adjust, she said.

As for her return, Kunz said she’s not sure what to expect. She’ll have one semester of high school to complete when she gets home next year and then see where the wind takes her from there.

“They say when you go on exchange don’t expect to come back the same person, because once you’re gone for a year you’re going to be having so many different experiences,” said Kunz. “You’re going to be living in a different country, it’s not going to be like a regular year, and you’re getting all these experiences people don’t get in a lifetime, so you’ve got to change a lot.”

Her excitement is shared with her family, though they’re nervous about letting her go for an entire years.

“It’s going to be such a great opportunity for her, but she’s so far away,” said mom Cory. “The Rotary is going to take really good care of her, but still. She’s going to be experiencing things on a daily basis that I won’t hear about until later.

“We’ve had a little time to get used to the idea, a little time. But we’ll miss her.”

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