A Clover High School senior is back at school with some very good stories to tell about what she did over the summer.
Briana Rinkes spent 39 days living in a suburb of Paris as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. The program is a true family-to-family exchange, meaning her “host sister,” Lena Richard, a member of the family Rinkes stayed with in Paris came to the U.S. to live with Rinkes’ family in Lake Wylie this summer.
It was an experience Rinkes said changed her life and left her with a thirst for more travel.
“I’m ready to pack my bag and go somewhere new,” she said.
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Her mother, Holly Rinkes, said it was hard to let her go for such a long time, especially since Briana had never even been on an airplane, much less traveled out of the country. However, thanks to technology, they were constantly in touch.
“(It) enabled us to stay connected, which made it feel like she was never gone, much less across the ocean,” Holly Rinkes said.
Briana Rinkes was able to spend two days alone with Richard, her host sister, in Paris. The two toured all the major sites there, including the Eiffel Tower, Versailles and the Louvre.
“It was Lena’s first time at Versailles, too, even though she lives 10 minutes away,” Briana said.
Recent terrorist attacks have led to increased security around the city. Rinkes said it only helped her feel more safe in a country that’s become a target for violence and that she was grateful for the opportunity to explore the city.
“It was interesting to see the guards with big guns walking the streets,” Rinkes said.
She also had the opportunity to travel with her host family and visited Normandy, the northern coast and French countryside. One of the most exciting moments occurred when Rinkes was unexpectedly invited to fly a small airplane alongside a French pilot at a Rotary event her host family attended. It was only her second time on an airplane – ever.
“I was totally unprepared for it but that was one of the coolest things (that happened) while I was there,” she said.
Rinkes also became a very adventurous eater and said she tried any food that was offered, which ranged from fruit she never ate at home like mangoes, to the more exotic sea spider.
“Anything they had I tried, no matter what, and even if I didn’t like it I would just swallow it and be gracious that I had the opportunity to try something like that,” Rinkes said.
“We had to Google most of the food she was eating,” her mother said.
While they were in France together, Richard took Rinkes to school with her. Rinkes said she had no idea what the lessons were about most of the time, but there was one thing she enjoyed.
“Their lunches were much better than any school lunch I ever experienced in America, so I looked forward to it because even though I couldn’t understand the lesson, lunch was something I looked forward to every day,” she said.
After Rinkes flew home, it was time for Richard to join her and her family. Her American adventure started around Independence Day. Holly Rinkes said she had to have a talk with Richard about some cultural differences.
“I had to give her a forewarning that we may eat (lunch) at 2 p.m. but we may graze for the rest of the day, and that was culturally weird for her,” she said.
Holly Rinkes said by the end of her trip Richard had learned to adapt to air conditioning, making her bed every day and snacking between meals. She also was able to tour not only parts of Charlotte, but Atlanta and Charleston too. She attended an Atlanta Braves game, saw the BMX World Championship in Rock Hill and really enjoyed eating at American restaurants. Holly Rinkes said there were certainly some differences between the cultures, but that it was a learning experience for the whole family.
“That was the beauty of the exchange, accepting that she did things differently and not thinking she was weird or wrong,” she said.
Typically, with a Rotary exchange, the students are the only ones who meet the other family members. But in this experience, something very different happened. Richard’s family decided to take a month-long vacation and travel America. They started their trip in Lake Wylie with a meet-up with the Rinkes family.
“The coolest thing for me was our families getting to meet and hang out for two days,” Briana Rinkes said. Her mom agreed.
“That was a really cool part having her family here and spending time with them,” Holly Rinkes said.
It was the perfect ending to an adventure that either family will have a hard time forgetting.
Katie Rutland: firstname.lastname@example.org