Quincy pair returns from overseas adventures
When Quincy students Tyler Landin and Daisy Villela applied for the Rotary Youth Exchange program, neither of them expected to be having each other’s dream adventure.
But that’s exactly what happened.
The application for the program asks applicants to list where they would most like to travel.
“All my choices were in Europe,” Landin said. “I really wanted to go to Europe.”
While Landin was dreaming European dreams filling out his application, fellow student and Rotarian Daisy Villela was making her own choices for which country she wanted to go to. Villela preferred a country with a warmer climate and maybe a little Latin flavor. Among her top choices was Brazil.
So where did Landin and Villela end up?
Landin found himself headed to Brazil and Villela to Europe – Denmark to be specific.
But the adaptable teens, who returned home to Quincy this summer, aren’t complaining. Each had an experience of a lifetime.
“The idea of Rotary Exchange is world peace,” Landin said. “We were able to go and be ambassadors and reflect positive things about the United States.”
Last fall, Landin left for Sao Gotardo, which is in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The city has a population of about 35,000 people.
“In Brazil I stuck out like a sore thumb with my fair skin and blonde hair,” Landin said.
As for Villela, she landed in a city called Randers, which is on a peninsula called the Jutland. Randers is Denmark’s sixth largest city with more than 61,000 people.
In Villelas’ case, the fact that she was even going on an exchange was a surprise to her. Normally only one student is chosen. A slot opened up through a Rotary club in Yakima, so Villela was able to go.
“For my 15th birthday my mom said I could have a trip instead of a party,” she said. “I chose the trip.”
Landin graduated from Quincy High School in 2014 before he left for the exchange. Once he got to Sao Gotardo he still had to attend classes to familiarize himself with the language and the culture. His classes lasted from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Villela was starting her junior year. The Randers school placed her in the second year at the high school level. What was surprising to her was that many students were between 17 and 20 years old.
“The government gives them money to live on their own,” Villela said. “By 18 they are moved out and sharing an apartment. Kids are expected to be mature and are given a lot of liberty.”
In Denmark, Villela found the overall environment relaxed. More people ride bikes than drive a car, and most utilize trains or buses. That’s because taxes are high on vehicles, she said. Although there is free medical and dental care for citizens, people pay 50 percent of their wages to such taxes. Villela faced a 45-minute uphill walk to school.
“If you are an exchange student you are riding a bus or walking,” said Landin. “It is not common to drive everywhere. Everyone is done with school at 17 years of age in Brazil. No one is driving to school. Eighteen is the driving age.”
Landin found that in Sao Gotardo, many young men and women live at home well into their 20s or 30s; many don’t move out until they are married.
Living in Brazil was expensive, Landin said. For example, a $600 Iphone purchased in the United States costs the equivalent of $2,000 in Brazil.
Villela also had to get used to how expensive things were in Denmark. A cup of coffee there could cost the equivalent of $10 in the United States.
As exchange students, Landin and Villela went on trips with other exchange students. Among Landin’s favorite trips was an 11-day adventure in the Amazon rainforest. Five of those days were spent on a boat on the Amazon River.
“I got to swim with pink dolphins,” he said. “In the Amazon you had to have bug repellent on or you would get eaten alive. You had to wear long pants in 90-degree weather.”
Villela chose to go on a Euro-tour. She went on a bus with 50 other exchange students to eight different countries – Germany, the Czech Republic, France, Austria, Monaco, Belgium, Netherlands and Italy.
“My favorite part of the exchange trip was when we went to the concentration camps,” Villela said. “We saw the holocaust memorial and we went into the gas chambers. We saw everything.”
While in Paris, Villela also went to the Louvre Museum, where she saw the famous Mona Lisa painting. The painting was much smaller than she thought it would be, she said.
The Quincy exchange students also found that good food was in abundance everywhere they went. Landin’s favorite thing to eat was the acai berry. He would eat the berries frozen with sugar on top, like a berry sorbet.
Villela fell in love with open-face sandwiches with a special Danish sauce on top. She also had fond memories of their holiday meal called “Flaeskesteg,” the traditional Christmas meal that includes roasted pork with mashed potatoes and gravy.
Leaving Denmark was a little difficult, Villela said.
“I watch Danish television sometimes,” she said. “My mind is still in Denmark. It has been kind of strange.”
But she is happy to be home with family. In fact, she appreciates her family more.
“You really end up appreciating how a family is,” Villela said. “You learn to be strong. You appreciate your family and what you have. Every family has different rules.”
Landin encourages other students to apply for the Rotary Youth Exchange program. The program gives students a new perspective on the world, he said.
Villela described her time in Denmark as not a year in her life, but a life in a year. She experienced so many new things in the world and is excited to share her stories with others. The hardest transition for her was living as an adult in Europe; American teenagers typically live with more rules, she said.
“You start out like a baby trying to figure out the language,” Villela said of the experience. “You find out your inner Dane or your inner Brazilian. You get to try on another life. It widens your horizons and opens your eyes.”
— By Tammara Green, QVPR contributor