The Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club will send at least 14 students to foreign countries in the coming year.

The Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club will send at least 14 students to foreign countries in the coming year.

The number comes close to the Rotary Club's goal of having 19 students participate in the Rotary Exchange program, which would have meant the group sent as many students abroad this year as all 52 clubs in its district.

"That's a huge number," said Sue Castro, who helps organize the exchange program for the Westerville Sunrise Rotary. "There's only a small number of clubs that participate strongly at all."

The Rotary Club spends around $12,000 on the exchange program each year, and it was the goal of Rotary president Walter Lundstrom to grow that program further this year.

Students who participate in the exchange program have the option of doing a short-term exchange or a long-term exchange.

Under the short-term program, students travel to another country for a month, then return home with another student from that country for a month.

Long-term exchange students spend an entire year abroad.

For both programs, students pay the cost of their insurance and plane tickets, and they stay with host families while abroad.

Students participating in the long-term exchange are given pocket money by the local Rotary, as well as money to cover their lunches.

Lucas Miller, a 16-year-old St. Charles Prep student, traveled from Westerville to Argentina on a short-term exchange this year and hopes to do a long-term exchange in the future.

In addition to being immersed in Argentinean culture, Miller said while abroad, he learned how easy it can be to make friends, regardless of the circumstances.

"It was easy for me to make friends, even with a language barrier," he said. "That was a great thing for me to find out."

Westerville North junior Genelle Castro also did a short-term exchange this summer, traveling to northern Spain. She recently returned with her "exchange sister," Maite.

Like Miller, Genelle Castro said the experience is valuable because students can make great friends while experiencing a different culture.

"I think every student should do an exchange at least once," she said. "Keep an open mind -- no country is like the U.S. And you don't want it to be."

In addition to sending students abroad, the Westerville Sunrise Rotary is hosting three long-term exchange students this year. Host families are still needed for two of them, Sue Castro said.

Host families don't have to be members of Rotary, but they do have to commit to housing students for three-and-a-half to four months, providing them with transportation, lodging and meals. The families are given a stipend to help with costs, Castro said.

"It's not only the students that's with the family who gets to participate in the cultural exchange," she said. "The host family gets a lot out of it a well."

Those interested in participating in the exchange program or acting as a host family can e-mail Castro at suecga1@acn.inc.net.

jnesbitt@thisweeknews.com