Up to now, my 16-year-old son, Christopher, a junior at Maria Carrillo High School has been on the normal track for college-bound teens. College visits. ACT and SAT tests. Some honors and AP classes. The works. And with that comes the other stuff – late nights studying, stress, competition to keep up, etc.

But last fall he came to us with a plan to get off that path a little – and take one less traveled. (Forgive the Frost-y reference. I couldn’t help myself.)
“I want to spend a year studying abroad,” he said. He has a friend who is spending his junior year in Finland through the Rotary Youth Exchange program, and Christopher wanted to do the same for his senior year.

What would you say?

As I recall, my response was something like a dog hearing a high-pitched whistle. I just sort of cocked my head and looked at him strangely. There may have been a whimper involved as well. What the heck are you talking about?

To make a long story short – and to fast forward past days of uncertainty and research that my wife, Tamara, and I had to go through, past the lengthy application process and the in-person interviews – he’s going. He’s been picked by the Santa Rosa Rotary clubs to be an “outbound” student for 2016-17.

And on Friday night (Jan. 29) he is going to find out what country he’s going to.

Sound crazy? It is. Are we nervous? Absolutely. But it’s the kind of nervousness that comes before stepping on some nutty roller coaster. It’s about what’s ahead. It’s not about turning back.

I won’t go into details, here, but I can’t say enough good things about the local Rotary clubs and the quality of this exchange program. Very polished and well-run.
So Christopher could end up going to any one of 18 countries. His preferences, in order, are Sweden, Denmark, Brazil, Switzerland or Italy. But he could end up going anywhere from Bolivia and Belgium to Taiwan and Thailand. He will find out at a gathering in Petaluma tomorrow night.

I’ll let you know this weekend.

In the meantime, would you let your student go? France is an option. Iran and Syria – thankfully – are not.

– Paul Gullixson

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