Orientations are an important part of the RYE readiness process.* They are a great time to learn about what to expect, what the requirements are for you and your family, and also to get to know your fellow outbound RYE students. It is a good idea to form a WhatsApp group chat with your fellow outbounds at the first orientation so that you can keep tabs on each others progress and find answers to simple questions without bothering Rotarians. Orientations are a great way for first-time international travelers and their parents to feel more comfortable with the concept of a ten-month exchange. It is also a great time for more introverted people to practice the skills they will need to be social and meet people on exchange. If you are more independent, outgoing, and confident with good judgment, you may find orientations less interesting. Regardless, keep an open mind and enjoy the time you have with your fellow outbounds before you all go your different directions.
The complexity of the legal entry application process is different depending on which country you end up going to, however here is how it was for me. Going from the USA to Bolivia requires a visa and the application process is not very difficult. It mainly involves getting numerous documents notarized, making sure you have your correct vaccinations, and getting an apostille for your notarized transcript. (bit.ly/getanapostille) For some countries though, you do have to drive or fly to the consulate/embassy to interview for your visa. Due to the timing of a trip to Japan, as well as the shortage of yellow fever vaccinations in the US, I didn’t get all of my documents in until mid-July. The result was that I did not get my visa until halfway through my window to leave, August 10th-20th. For the first two weeks, I was checking the tracking on my visa every day, but it seemed like it would never come. Then, August 15th I got an email from the embassy and on the 17th it was in my hands.
Within minutes of receiving my visa, my flights had been booked by Its Your World Travel (our RYE travel agency). A google search of flights from Sacramento(SMF) to Tarija, Bolivia (TJA) will turn up flight options anywhere from 23 hours to more than 40 hours. No matter which way you go it’s a long way thanks to Bolivia’s relative isolation. For RYE students going to Bolivian cities other than Tarija, it does not take as long because flying to Tarija the way Rotary does include a 15-hour layover in Santa Cruz. Fortunately for me, my host family will be in Santa Cruz seeing their son off on his exchange. Because of this, we will rendezvous there before flying to Tarija. I will be leaving on Friday the 23rd of August at 07:00 and arriving in Santa Cruz, Bolivia at 03:30, on Saturday the 24th.
My biggest concern right now is just preparing myself for the serious Spanish learning curve I will be faced with immediately. I have pretty much accepted that I will have no choice but to dive in head-first. In Germany, it was very different because I could communicate in English with people there when I lost my bags and needed basic questions answered along the way. I am pretty sure that that would be a big assumption to make this time around for everything, but I have been told that as an RYE student people are generally very nice and helpful.
Other than learning Spanish, packing is a pretty difficult task. Meeting the weight requirements while still preparing to bring everything I will need for a year is very difficult. The problem isn’t that I don’t have enough space but that I am not able to distribute it easily thanks to the shape of the items. I am not concerned about having enough space coming back because a good 25% of the weight and 30% of the volume of what I am bringing are gifts for host families, friends, and classmates. I will be checking two bags, one large rolling duffle, and one carry-on sized suitcase, and I will be carrying on a backpack for light but fluffy things and medicine as well as my valuables bag with a laptop, chargers, cameras, batteries, etc. It may be a lot, but I am very confident that I will use and be prepared for whatever may come.
I expected that I would be a little more nervous than I am, but I think the three weeks of waiting for my visa have turned anxiety into eagerness. It’s sort of like being on a long flight and having the need to get up and walk around trump the stress of arriving. Initially, it had looked like it was going to take longer to get there if I would have to fly direct to my host town of Tarija. Fortunately, the flight situation looks good and I will get to spend a day with my host family in Santa Cruz as well! I still have a long way to go, but I know that all will be well and I will be there soon!
*TIPS FOR RYE STUDENTS. Since orientations are MANDATORY, make sure that you get clarification on when they are exactly as soon as you possibly can. Also tell your YEO about conflicts as soon as possible, even on your application if you know that far in advance. It is expected that you would have a lot of important things going on towards the end of any school year, especially if you are a senior. Things like family trips you have known about for a year, promotions, or similar events are important parts of your life that you should not have to miss four months before your exchange even begins. I had known that I would have black belt testing long before I knew the dates of the orientations. Fortunately, they didn’t overlap, but my first and most important black belt prep class did I ended up having to leave early in order to get to the orientation. If you have a conflict tell your YEO AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Especially if orientation dates change at the last minute and become a conflict with an important event that you had a warning about, you may need to have a serious conversation with your YEO about getting the slideshows, worksheets, and other materials after the fact.