Last year Millie Ojemere was just another British school student, working her way through GCSEs. Little did she know that visiting one website by chance would have such an impact on her life and send her over 5000 miles across the globe. I interviewed Millie earlier this week to find out more about her extraordinary story and how she feels to be an International Ambassador for Britain.

 

Q: So, Millie, how did you end up in Brazil?

A: Well, I was on a French exchange in 2010 when one of the teachers accompanying us heard me speak French. She was surprised at how fluent and suggested to me that I should look up the Rotary Organisation which has 'broadened horizons through Rotary Youth Exchange' for over 75 years.

 

Q: What happened next?
A: Well, I signed up! The youth exchange involves more that 80 countries and over 8,000 15 - 19 year old students participating in a global exchange. If I'm honest, when I signed up I really had no idea what I was getting into! All I thought was that it would be such a great experience and a chance to pick up an entirely new language. Initially, I considered travelling to Germany, or France, but I felt that I wanted something that would really challenge me so I picked Brazil...As you do!

 

Q: Did you go with any of your friends?
A: You can do, but I didn't! I felt that it was more of a solitary decision and you make so many friends out there anyway you don't really need to go with anyone. I now have friends all across the world, from France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Venezuela, from everywhere! Though, as I found out later, I'm the only person who’s applied from Britain in the last ten years!

 

Q: How long were you gone for and how did you find being away from home?
A: I chose to go for an entire year - well 11 months and 2 weeks to be precise! It was difficult being away from home for so long. It was definitely difficult to be away from my family and celebrating New Years without them was really hard. However, overall I didn’t find it too upsetting because all three of the host families I stayed with were so lovely and welcoming. My first host Mum actually treated me like her own daughter. At the end of my trip she invited me over for a huge goodbye dinner where she had made a spread of all my favourite meals, pao de queijo, arroz e feijao, feijoada, doce de leite, etc, it was so tasty! When they took me to the airport she said to me 'you are Brasileira de coracao' which means 'Brazilian by heart'. Honestly, leaving was the hardest part of the whole trip, it was so emotional because you don't just feel like a guest when you're there; you become such an integral part of their lives as they do with yours.

 

Q: How did you find learning a new language?

A: Well, before I went, I only new 4 basic phrases in Portuguese! But the host families I stayed with were very helpful and patient with me. The teachers at the school I attended (funded for by Rotary) were also extremely helpful. They would discuss with me after class what we had learnt so I could start to get a better understanding of the language. Even though I spoke English with the other exchange students I met there, everything else I did was fully in Portuguese. After a while I began to think in Portuguese and I even had a couple dreams entirely in Portuguese!

 

Q: Would you recommend the Rotary Youth Exchange to others?

A: Yes! I'd definitely say just go for it! Choosing to go was one of the best decisions I've ever made for myself. The past year has been one of the hardest, but undoubtedly, the best year of my life. I really feel like I've changed, I've matured and before I was so shy and closed that I didn’t tend to open up to other people. The trip taught me so much about myself. I've become more confident, self-reliant and responsible. I even just got a job which before I would never have had the guts to apply for! It has enriched my love for languages and culture and has broadened my understanding of the world - even all the way across the globe, teenagers are still the same! The trip was everything I wanted to be and more, I would recommend it to anyone - it's a once in a lifetime experience.

 

The Rotary Organisation was founded in 1905 and its target is to 'better the world through service'. Its members consist of thousands of people world wide, including the likes of Bill Gates and Jackie Chan. As an organisation it has sought to fund causes all around the world. In 1970-1980 through Rotary's efforts Polio was eradicated in over 99.9% of the world and has continued to make a positive impact on humanity across the globe. To find out more, visit: http://www.rotary.org/en/StudentsAndYouth/YouthPrograms/RotaryYouthExchange/Pages/ridefault.aspx

The world awaits you; it's just up to you to find it!