Every year since 1961, young people have participated in the Lions International Youth Exchange Program. The goal of the program is to create and foster a spirit of understanding among the peoples of the world. Unlike other exchange programs, the Lions YEP is not conducted for tourism, education, or employment. Instead, it is a unique cultural learning opportunity. It is a person to person program involving Lions clubs throughout the world who sponsor youth or sponsor host families for visiting youth.
Locally, Key Peninsula Lions Club past president George Robison has been spearheading the program and is chair for YEP with Lions District 19-C, which embraces an area from Poulsbo in the north to Tumwater in the south, Maple Valley in the east and Shelton in the west. Robison and his wife, Cindy, have also hosted several students through the years from Australia, Japan, France and Peru. They believe in and are committed to the program.
Participating YEP youth must be 16 but not over 21 years of age, be sponsored by a Lions club, have a basic knowledge of the language of the host country or desire to experience the language, be suitable to represent their community, Lions club, and country, and be willing to accept the customs of another culture.
Potential YEP youth may request local Lions club sponsorship. If multiple requests are received, or in the absence of requests, Lions clubs often conduct speech contests, essay writing contests, or personal interviews to select program participants. Exchanges can occur in any of the more than 190 countries with Lions clubs. Most exchanges last between four and six weeks. Often, participants are also involved in the Lions International Youth Camp Program; they cite the pleasure of meeting youth from several countries.
Robison can connect potential hosts with families who have hosted YEP guests. Among these are Pat Medveckus, Karen and Paul Gruver, Heidi and Jeff Langhelm, Ed and Lori Robison, Miriam and Steve Atchison, and Don and Lola Zeth, who hosted visitors from countries such as Belgium, Finland, Peru, and New Zealand. The Gruvers’ daughter also visited Italy under YEP. Ed and Lori Robison, who hosted visitors three years in a row, this year sent their son to New Zealand under YEP.
“We enjoyed getting to know each (exchange student) as individuals, but in each case there were some things they had in common,” Lori Robison said. “It was fun to be able to show the students our beautiful section of the world, which is so different from their hometowns.
My children also enjoyed getting a new perspective on different cultures.”
George Robison advises potential host families their next opportunity is in December 2006. He said, “Host families need to be found by Oct. 1 to allow ticketing for travel from Australia, Brazil, New Zealand and Peru, with the possibility that other countries will be added.”
Travel arrangements are made between Lions youth exchange coordinators or chairpersons in the sponsoring and hosting regions. Arrangements for transportation costs are the responsibility of the sponsoring Lions club. Those costs may be paid by the club, by the youth, his or her family, or by some combination of sources. Some Lions clubs sponsor fund-raising for youth they sponsor.
“Summer 2007 travel will probably be in July,” Robison said. “To get the best travel prices, tickets should be ordered by May 1, meaning that all applications need to be to the travel coordinator by March 15, 2007, to allow placement in the host country in time to buy tickets. It might take several weeks for the host country to match travelers to hosts.”
For information, visit www.lionsyouthexchange.org. Those interested in becoming Lions YEP exchange youth or hosts may contact Robison at 853-2721 or via email at email@example.com.
Hugh McMillan is a member of the Key Peninsula Lions Club.