Over the River and Through the Woods

Experiencing the world beyond the confines of Antioch, Ill., may be as simple as embarking on a journey to grandmother’s house.


High school gives students high levels of freedom and introduces them to many new people. Students meet new people through classes, clubs and sports. One way of meeting new people and creating lifelong friendships with memories that tends to float under the radar is Rotary. Rotary is also known as the foreign exchange program at Antioch Community High School. In this program, students choose a country that they would like to visit and are paired with another student from that country who wants to come and visit the United States. After being paired with a “brother” or “sister,” students plan when they will go visit. The American student then lives with the foreign exchange student in their country for several weeks, after which both students come to the U.S. for several weeks.

Every pairing is one of a kind, because every pair comes from some place different. For senior Ian Gugel, Rotary changed his life and consumed it in a positive way. Gugel went to Madrid, Spain for five weeks in 2017, followed by a six week stay in America by Gugel’s “brother,” Enrique Baeza. In 2018, Baeza returned to America for another six week stay in Gugel’s home. Rotary allowed Gugel to explore and be exposed to a new culture. It was new to him and something he enjoyed a lot.

“I learned the difference in cultures between the U.S. and Spain,” Gugel said. “The everyday life in Spain is very different.”

Another example of a unique Rotary experience was that of senior Jena Burton. Burton first experienced Rotary when she decided to go to Pozuelo de Alarcón, which is an outskirt of Madrid, where she stayed with Cristina Agudo. After their time in Madrid, Agudo came to Burton’s house to visit. One thing that Rotary does is give recommended activities for families to do with exchange students. In Burton’s case, they recommended that they take Agudo to Chicago and do fun activities.

“We asked what she wanted to do, made a list and just kind of explained everything to her,” Burton said.

The Rotary program does have some rules installed in order to keep everyone safe, as well as making the process easy for everyone. For example, Gugel and Baeza had the same school schedule and spent all day together so the process was made simple for the Spaniard; however, they do give the visiting students some freedom to do what they want.

“There is a rule that you have to be with the exchange student 90 percent of the time,” Burton said. “But one time she went to a Cubs game without me.”

Gugel and Burton are two students who have experience with Rotary. The two have only positive things to say about their experiences but many students cannot relate to them because they have never had the chance. Senior Alexander Keeler, has never had an exchange student but from what he has seen from Baeza and Gugel, he has formed a positive opinion about the Rotary experience.

“I would definitely be open to having a foreign exchange student come and even possibly going over to their country,” Keeler said. “It’s one of those things you really can’t experience anywhere else.”

Rotary has brought many life changing experiences and long lasting memories for students and is a program that is sometimes overlooked by many. The Rotary club has weekly meetings at the Lodge in downtown Antioch at 7 p.m.