Neshaminy student studies abroad

More stories from Madison Pickul

Crossfire: PHRC
February 15, 2019
Mon rêve est devenu réalité en ce jour. My dream came true on this day.

Neshaminy junior Catelyn Ballard takes her normal high school required classes, but instead of learning in a typical Neshaminy classroom, she’s learning in the southeast of Provence, France.

Through the Rotary Club’s Youth Exchange program (RYE), Ballard is able to get a high school education and explore the culture of different countries around the world. RYE is a program that sends 15- to 19-year-olds on exchanges. There are two different types to choose from, long term and short term; Ballard chose long term, which lasts a total of 10 months. Students choose five countries they would want to live in, and the RYE picks one of them for the exchange student.  

“[RYE] is an 10-month program, but I was able to stay for an extra month because France is okay with me staying and my visa has another month, so my exchange will be 11 months. The countries I chose were France, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland. I was lucky enough to get my first choice,” said Ballard.

Ballard is on month seven of her exchange. A short term exchange is where the student goes to another country and lives with a host family for a month. Then the student from the host family goes back to the exchange student’s country and lives with that family for a month; this takes place in the summer. Both students travel and explore the country and culture during their respective month.

“Different languages and cultures have always been super interesting to me,” Ballard said. “I have always loved and wanted to learn other languages and experience other ways of living.” Picking her top five countries to live in wasn’t all that hard for Ballard, who knew she always wanted to live in France.

“I feel like here in France is my real home and back in PA is just a place I go to visit,” she said. “My life in France feels like my real life; it’s weird to think that I now have two different lives and the people here in France will never know my life in USA, and the people in USA will never know my life in France.”

With the RYE, Ballard is able to go on trips to other countries. So far on her exchange year, she has visited Italy, Spain and all over France. In April, Ballard will be traveling to Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Czech Republic. Then in July, she will be traveling to Belgium, England, and the Netherlands.

The RYE is not a program where students just tour other countries; Ballard also has to attend school every day just like her Neshaminy peers; the only difference is how she is taught. “Everyone takes school very seriously and there is no fooling around when the teacher is in the room. Every Thursday I have a two-hour test called a Devoir Surveillé (DS); it’s just a big test for what you have been learning; the subject changes weekly. It’s kind of like a mid term, but you have one every week.” Ballard then goes on to talk about the opportunities studying abroad has offered her.

“Some opportunities I now have that I wouldn’t have gotten from Neshaminy [are] that I can now write on college applications that I studied abroad in high school, got to travel the world, I got to go to a weekend long conference with all the Exchange students in the country of France and the President of Rotary International,” said Ballard.

“I will get a second language out of this year, have a more worldly point of view, learn to look past judgements, stereotypes, accept my mistakes and learn to fix them on my own and fast, gain confidence, and lastly, learn how to let new people into your heart so that they become family.”

The moment Ballard realized that she wanted to be an exchange student and needed to make it happen was in September 2015 where she was at a soccer game with some Rotarians. At the soccer game there were exchange students from all over the world and she talked with them the whole time. After the game, Ballard turned to her mom and said, “I need to be like them. Now, I’m living my dream in France.”