Elisa Brownrigg

Elisa Brownrigg of Santa Catarina, Brazil is this years Rotary Club exchange student

Santa Catarina, Brazil

WEST LIBERTY — Santa Catarina, Brazil, the home of West Liberty's newest Rotary exchange student, enjoys a fresh, temperate climate. The annual medium temperatures range from 14 to 22 degrees Celsius. In Fahrenheit, that is between 57.2 and 71.6 degrees.   

Catarina arrived just in time for Iowa's chilly fall weather and winter on the horizon. 

Elisa Brownrigg of Brazil said she is expecting some serious weather changes in her home for the next school year.

"It's really cold here," Brownrigg said. "It will take a while for me to get used to it. I'll have to wear a jacket."

Brownrigg is this year's in-bound Rotary Club exchange student. This fall, she began classes at West Liberty High School.

According to Steve Hanson, the Rotary Club of West Liberty brings in students from around the world. 

"We've had exchange students from Italy, France, and now Brazil," Hanson said. "In our club, we try to get an incoming student at least every other year."

Rather than have students apply for a student visa, the Rotary exchange students apply for J1 visas.

"The cultural visa (J1) is for one year only and the students are eligible for participation in all school activities," Hanson said. "If a kid wants to come to the country and play football or basketball or the swimming team, they are eligible as all Iowa students are."

Prospective exchange students apply through their local Rotary Club, and if selected are added to a list that is sent to Rotary chapters across the world. They are then connected with host families in the exchange country. 

The Rotary Club of West Liberty offers a monthly allowance and pays for school lunch. The host family covers meals and travel as they would their own student. 

These students' participation is part of the mutually beneficial exchange the Rotary hopes to engender.

"A true exchange benefits both parties not only the young person coming in for one year and what they learn and how they grow but also what they contribute by providing to their colleagues a direct contact with another country and experience of schooling that they can share." 

And Hanson said he is not the only person saying this. He references an exchange policy drafted by the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel that was endorsed by the National Association of Secondary Principals (NASP).

"The (NASP) actually recommends schools to aim towards up to 1 percent of school enrollment in high school to be exchange students because of the diversity and experiences that they bring," Hanson said.

Brownrigg is taking a full load of classes, including English, math and a cooking class where she has learned to make crepes and cook vegetables. She said that this is her first experience with cooking. But it's not the food itself that she finds surprising about the United States.

"In Brazil, we use like fork and knife to eat everything," Brownrigg said. "And here they use just forks. It's weird for me because everything we eat with fork and knife, but they don't use a knife here. And they put cheese on everything."

She is still relatively fresh to the country, so she is not sure what her come away from the experience will be. Her brother also participated in the program. She remembers it changed him. 

"My brother he was really shy before," Brownrigg said. "And then when he went back home, he wasn't shy anymore. I'm shy sometimes, but I think it changed him. So I think I might change, too."

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