Each year, a financial award is given out to a Long Term Outbound Rotary Exchange student in Rotary District 5020.   The financial award in the amount of $3 000 U.S. helps to offset Rotary Student Exchange Program expenses reducing the financial burden of participation for any student.

    Lee Belas was an exchange student to Belgium in 1985/1986, an experience that changed his perspective of the world and redirected his plans for the future.  He discovered that he loved learning other languages and wanted to someday be an ambassador.

    Lee treasured his exchange experiences and frequently expressed the wish that students would not have to miss this wonderful opportunity simply because they could not afford the expense.  Tragically, Lee was killed in action in Iraq ion February 27, 1991, at the age of 22.  Following Lee's death in 1991, Port Orchard Rotarians and friends of Rotary established the Foundation as a memorial to fulfill Lee's wish by helping outbound students with travel costs.  

   Since 1996, over $50 000 in financial assistance have been awarded to District 5020 outbound exchange students.  In order to acknowledge the impact this award has had on young lives, the Rotary Youth Exchange Committee District 5020 is introducing a feature column titled, ‘Where are they Now’, an interview with some of our past recipients.

  With that thought in mind we introduce Isaac Alvarez Rueda an exchange student ‘ambassador’ during the 2015-2016 Exchange year.  He answered a few skill testing questions to give us a glimpse of his year.

Q 1:   Where were you for your exchange year?

I was hosted by the Bandung District 3410 in Indonesia.   Although in a city of    7, 000, 000, I was welcomed by a smaller Rotary club of 25.   I made an effort to be very active in the club, however, I found that I wasn’t always included in volunteer activities.   During my year I was home hosted by  three families.   


Q 2:  Please share a vivid memory of your exchange year.

After arriving at midnight, the first morning I was taken to a traditional market.  It seemed everyone was staring at me---people even stopped on motorbikes to look.  I remember it felt strange so I laughed.   I’ve always had an appreciation for architecture ---Buddhist and Hindu---so certainly a highlight was visiting the largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia --- Borobudur --- it felt like a dream fulfilled to experience something so different from anything I ‘ve ever known in Canada.


Q 3:  How did the RYE year impact your life?

I learned to live by myself, make decisions myself----and I certainly tried to become independent.  I didn’t actually establish many exchang student friendships, but rather made Indonesian friends.  I learned to appreciate my own family even  more.  My current knowledge of culture makes me almost feel I could call myself Indonesian.  Now back in Canada, it is truly part of me now.


Q 4:  How did the Lee Belas Financial Award contribute to your exchange year?

The financial award reduced stress on my family----and helped me fund trip to Bali and grow to know their culture --- largely Hindu rather than Muslim.  My cultural ‘sense’ was broadened .   The Scholarship helped make it happen --- gave peace me of mind.   It was huge effort for me and for my family to bring it all together.


Q 5:  What advice would you give to today’s exchange students?

Start by talking to lots of people---create a network of people that can help you.  Try to plan your days and actively look for events.  Say yes to everything you can while conscious of any risks.   Make ‘yes’ come out of your mouth and roll with whatever comes next ---  there were so many great times when I did say yes!


Q 6:  Please tell us a little about your life now.

I am attending Grade 12 at Parklands Secondary in Sidney.  I applied to help at the Volunteer Island Refugee Centre which helped my family when we first moved here.  I hope my language skills can help wherever possible --- with my new knowledge and appreciation of Islam I can help--- particularly with Syrian refugees arriving.


Q 7:  Do you have any other thoughts to share?

It is so Important to say yes and consider what you are entering into.  An exchange year won’t be all fun----but consider it your job for the year.  Have deep respect for what you will be entering into.  From the moment I signed up for the program I gave this all I've got. This quickly became the most challenging, most stressful, most rewarding, and best experience of my entire life. I can't express my gratitude enough to everyone in Rotary Districts 5020 and 3410, my old and new families, all the amazing people I've met and all the supporters who helped me become the person I am today. Most of all I'm proud of myself. All the hard work I put to make this the experience of my dreams. Coming to Indonesia with Rotary was the best decision I've ever made. I can't believe there was a time when I wasn't an Indonesia man.