Taiwan may be far away off the coast of China, but thanks to the Hyde Park Rotary Club, some of its treasures are right here in town.
One of these treasures is Jenny Wu, who is attending FDR High School as part of the Rotary’s International Youth Exchange program.
The program invites 15-to-18-year-old students to spend a full year in the United States, or, for American students, a year abroad while still in high school.
Jenny arrived in Hyde Park last August, representing the second half of a Taiwanese exchange, through which Su Xion Dickey of Hyde Park spent her junior year in Taichung, the third largest city in Taiwan.
Even though Jenny studied English in her own school, she said, “I was still very nervous and it took about two months to acclimate to my new setting.” Students spend time normally with three different local families, and Wu added, “Now, I love it here and I thank all of my local families and friends for making this such an exciting experience.”
Rotary Coordinator Pompey Delafield backed up Jenny’s comments on the program, saying, “This is true of many of the students, they go through an initial homesick kind of feeling for the first few weeks, but by the end of the year, they wonder why they cannot stay longer!”
This year’s exchange continues a long-standing program for the Hyde Park Rotarians, who have been involved with the International Exchange for several years. The local service organization works closely with the administrative staff at the high school to support students who enroll in the program.
Currently, there are eight international exchange students attending high schools in District 7210 of Rotary, which includes Dutchess, Rockland, Orange, Ulster and a portion of Putnam County.
The Hyde Park Rotarians are also sponsoring exchange student Eli Berkowitz of Hyde Park, who is in Brazil this year. In 2015, another local student, Ethan Pine, will take his turn traveling to Brazil, as well.
Students do not participate free of charge and are expected, if possible, to help raise funding for the initial cost of $4,000, with Rotary contributing up to half of that amount.
This leads to some very creative ideas on the part of the students.
Ethan Pine, for instance, is already hoping to raise funds by taking on the role of an Avon salesman, while Su Xion put her baking skills to good use by selling homemade cookies prior to her flight to Taiwan last year.
She increased her sales by stuffing faculty mailboxes at FDR High with flyers depicting her specialties, which included chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, petit fours, and pretzels, knowing that they couldn’t be resisted. It worked to perfection.
Su Xion, who hopes to attend SUNY Albany or Binghamton, or Fordham University in the fall, said, “The program is worth every bit of missing a year at our regular school, because you meet students from around the world, learn new languages, and develop understanding of new cultures.”
Jenny seconded this feeling, commenting, “It has been a fantastic learning experience and I am so happy to have experienced it.” She has taken up tennis at FDR and was a violinist in the orchestra pit for the recent high school production of “South Pacific.”
Taiwan proved to be a positive venue for Su Xion, who learned to appreciate the high standards of Taiwanese schools and several culinary treats. “I especially liked bubble milk tea, their spicy fried chicken, and Hot Pot soup and the ‘night life’ shopping at markets, which is a daily part of life in Taiwan,” she said.
Jenny has fallen in love with several local treats, as well. “I love ice cream, especially at Holy Cow in Red Hook, cheesecake, pasta and Cold Stone ice cream,” she said with a smile.
When the school year comes to a close in June, Jenny will join the other exchange students from Rotary Club in a bus trip throughout the United States, visiting historical sites and natural wonders before returning to her home in Shueili Township in rural Taiwan. She says the experience has increased her interest in becoming part of the international business community or working for an airline in some capacity.
Without a doubt, the positive vibes expressed by each student speak very well for the Youth Exchange and Hyde Park’s part in advancing international understanding through young people. Both Su Xion and Jenny indicated that they hope to become members of Rotary once they are established in their adult lives.