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Student gains life experience through Norwegian camper exchange

By Jessica Sinn
University News Service
September 26, 2007


Jacob Riddle (third from right) and his Norwegian host family.
Before embarking on the rite of passage into college life, many young students dream of backpacking through far and distant countries.  As tuition and text book prices continue to soar, these prospective world travelers must put their dreams on hold before filling their passports with stamps. 

For Jacob Riddle, a Texas State University-San Marcos freshman, this ideal summer adventure became a reality.  Last summer he experienced various cultures and made lifelong friends in Norway, all travel expenses paid by the Wimberley Lions Club. Living expenses were covered by local Norwegian Lions Club chapters.

Riddle, of Wimberley, said he chose to spend his summer in Norway because he wanted to immerse himself in an unknown environment.  By stepping outside his comfort zone, he said he gained insight about other cultures.   

“Trying new things and experiencing different cultures opens your eyes and also reinstates what you believe in,” Riddle said.

The Lions Club International Youth Camp and Exchange Program was adopted in 1961 to provide cultural learning experiences for college students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to finance a summer vacation overseas.  Travel expenses, food and lodging are all covered by the sponsoring Lions Club.

Riddle spent the first two weeks of his trip with two separate host families.  He said he will never forget living on a houseboat for a week and participating in the family’s wake-up ritual, where they all jumped in the near freezing water every morning.  He said he enjoyed living with the families because they both made it easy for him to feel at home. 

“Both of my host families were very loving people,” Riddle said.  “They made it their goal to make me feel comfortable.” 

The program typically accepts six students per year from participating high schools.  Riddle was the only student selected from the U.S. at Norway’s Sea and Water Youth Exchange camp. 

For three weeks, Riddle said he stayed at the youth exchange camp, themed “Water and Friendship.”  He said he spent his days wakeboarding and repelling, and his nights relaxing in his lake-side dorm with newfound friends. 

“When you’re around so many diverse people, you find they’re not too different from yourself,” Riddle said.  “By living with roommates from Italy and Turkey, I found that all our conversations showed we aren’t that different.  Cultures are different but I think people can be the same.”   

Brett Rush, Lions Clubs International assistant editor and public relations coordinator, said the program is a great preparatory tool for incoming college students.

“I think that by spending time in a foreign country, far away from home, you have to adapt to being an adult, which translates well to the college experience,” Rush said. 

Rush said the program gives students an opportunity to learn life lessons that can’t be found in a text book.

“An experience like this helps individuals open themselves to other cultures,” Rush said.  “I think it helps them listen to what other people are saying, and to adopt different perspectives in a multicultural environment.”

To be selected for the program, students must be between the ages of 15 and 21, sponsored by the Lions Club, and should present themselves as good representatives for their community.

For more information about the Lions Club International Youth Camp and Exchange Program, call the Youth Programs Department (630) 571-5466 or visit www.lionsclubs.org.