Almost exactly two years ago, Dunwoody High School freshman, Henry O’Connor, attended the Rotary Club of Dunwoody’s Informational Session for Parents and Students to learn about the Rotary Youth Exchange scholarship program. Despite his young age, Henry had already developed a deep interest in culture, science, scouting, sports, martial arts, and music. But his real passion was for the study of foreign languages and cultures. By 14 years old, Henry was already proficient in Latin, German, and Japanese languages, and had begun to study Russian! In his application to the Rotary Club of Dunwoody to be considered for the Rotary Youth Exchange scholarship, Henry wrote “One thing I can't stand is the homogenization of other countries to ‘be more American or western.’ I want to cherish our differences because that's what makes us truly human. Other places have an irresistible allure to me that makes me want to travel the world.”
Henry was selected by the Rotary Club of Dunwoody, and later by the District 6900 Rotary Youth Exchange selection committee to be one of our student ambassadors to represent us in a study abroad program for one academic year in a foreign high school, while living with a Rotary selected and trained host family in complete immersion in a foreign language and culture. The country that Rotary chose for Henry’s exchange year was Thailand!
In his own words, here is Henry’s self-introduction for our meeting on Friday:
Hello! My name is Henry O’Connor and last year I was an exchange student living and studying in Thailand. During my year I learned to speak Thai, lived with a Thai host family, studied at a Thai high school, and even became a Thai Theravada Buddhist monk. My passion is languages and during my year abroad I studied Chinese, Japanese, and Thai. I learned that despite our cultural differences we all search for the same happiness. I not only learned new skills but came to a deeper understanding of what it means to be multicultural. Rotary Youth Exchange gave me purpose and helped me understand the extent of all the opportunities available to me.
Henry mastered the Thai language while on exchange, had many life-changing experiences, and wrote regular on-line journals so that his sponsor Rotarians back in Dunwoody could follow his adventures during his year. At their year-end event, Rotary District 3350, in Thailand, named Dunwoody High School student, and Rotary Club of Dunwoody ambassador, Henry O’Connor, Thailand’s Rotary Youth Exchange student of the year! Now that he is back home in Dunwoody, after his Rotary Youth Exchange year, Henry is a junior at Dunwoody High School, and continues to serve Rotary by speaking about his experience with the program and helping to prepare future Rotary Youth Exchange students.