Alyssa White only had 30 days to prepare for a year living in Thailand.
The 17-year-old La Crosse Logan High School senior visited the Asian country last summer as part of a year-long Rotary Youth Exchange. The program, which sends area high school students to live with Rotary host families in other countries, had originally set her up for going to Turkey, but when the attempted coup and unrest broke out in the country last year, they had to switch plans at the last minute.
Scrambling to get a visa and other documentation ready, White said she didn’t have a whole lot of time to learn about the country she was visiting. But once she got to Thailand, it was an incredible experience learning the culture and making connections with her host families and fellow students.
“I went into the country blind,” she said, “and had no idea of the culture and the language. But everyone was super nice and really helpful.”
Missy Plunkett, a junior at Onalaska High School will spend the next year in the Czech Republic after connecting with the exchange program. She said she became interested in becoming an exchange student after a family friend started hosting exchange students through a different exchange program.
Involved with her school’s Rotary Interact club for students, Plunkett said she had shown interest in the exchange program since the eighth grade. She said she’s excited for learning about a new country and recommended any student interested in learning about the world to check out the program.
Rotary will hold its annual informational meeting about the program at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Childrens Museum of La Crosse. Interviews for those interested in the program will be in early October, and was how White got connected to the program.
She said one of her teachers at Logan suggested she look into it, and after attending the informational meeting in 2015 went through the whole process. She left for Thailand in August 2016, returning to the U.S. this past July.
The first few months were a little rough she said, as she bounced between excitement for exploring the country and culture she was immersed in and missing friends and family she had back home. Around Christmas, she said she decided it was time to jump in headfirst, and spent the rest of the exchange making friends and learning.
Thailand was a lot different than she thought it would be, such as cultural norms of taking off shoes before entering a house.
The country is very religious, she said, and the Buddhist faith permeated everything from the education system to family life.
The school system was different as well, with classes structured more like college where students don’t take the same subject every day. White said she made some of her best friends at the school and stays in contact with them and the host families she stayed with during her trip.
“That was the biggest thing I took away from it,” she said. “I got a new family.”
“I went into the country blind and had no idea of the culture and the language. But everyone was super nice and really helpful.” Alyssa White, Logan High School senior