Posted by Ray Philp on Dec 15, 2020
At our breakfast meeting on Tuesday 15th December we were treated to a very entertaining and informative presentation from our Rotary Youth Exchange, Connor Ovens, who recently returned from a nine month exchange to Germany.
Connor broke his presentation down to a couple of months at a time commenting that the first two were very different from the middle two and the last two.
He started his exchange in January travelling to Germany on the 18th January.  He was met at the airport by his host family and his host club's Youth Exchange officer.  His first meal at his host family's home was a typical German meal comprising of potato, pork and sauerkraut.  Connor found hearing German spoken by his host family  a "little weird" as he didn't speak any German at that point.
First two months was about trying to fit in, going to German schools, starting to make friends, getting acclimatised to family life, learning the language - the normal first few months of an exchange!  This was pre - COVID and Connor had the opportunity to experience and enjoy the normal German life.
However, from March to July COVID struck and Germany went into serious lockdown.  Connor spent a lot of time in his house and room that was very challenging.  The school was closed and the teaching went online.  Connor was not expected to attend lessons except the English class if the teacher specifically wanted him to join.  There wasn't a lot to do so Connor used the time to learn German which was one positive that came from the lockdown experience.
During the 3 months of lockdown Connor celebrated his 18th birthday.  Some of his German friends and other Youth Exchange friends were able to help him celebrate at a local restaurant.  There were some other times during this period of lockdown that he was able to go out for some enjoyable experiences.
In July to August which was his German summer, Connor moved to his second host family.  It was a different family than the one that was originally allocated as the original family's daughter was supposed to go on exchange however was cancelled due to COVID.  The family didn't have room for Connor and fortunately another Rotary member stepped in to provide a host family.
The summer was when Connor was able to travel, experience and see a fair bit of Germany, however due to COVID was not able to travel into other parts of Europe.  The Exchange students normally have a big tour of Europe in March however this wasn't possible due to COVID.
Connor shared many photos that he took which demonstrated what a fantastic experience he had on Exchange even taking into account the disruption caused by COVID.
As Germany was going into lockdown again Rotary arranged a flight home for Connor on the 18th October.  He was give 24 hours notice as the original flight was planned for the 22nd November.
On arriving back in Perth Connor had to go into hotel quarantine and he shared his experience with the meeting.
His overall experience?
  • Exchange was one of the most memorable years of his life
  • He learned probably more in those 9 months than any other period of time
  • It was really challenging at times, but he left Germany in October with no regrets of the time he spent there
Connor finished by thanking the club for supporting him in going, and all year. 
He especially mentioned Past President Ian Fairnie for his time and effort to restart the RYE programme in our club.