A rising senior at Clover High School is on her way across the Atlantic Ocean to begin the trip of her life.
Today Briana Rinkes took her very first ride on an airplane to Paris, where she will live for the next 39 days with a French family, becoming completely immersed in their culture. It is part of a Rotary Youth Exchange program which annually sends 8,000 students across the world to live with host families in new countries. Students can stay anywhere from just a few weeks to almost a year.
Rinkes is participating in a short-term stay with a family in Rueil-Malmaison, a suburb of Paris. She has been studying French for three years in school and will now be putting what she has learned to the ultimate test as she lives abroad for more than a month.
“I’m really excited to learn it firsthand and apply the things I’ve learned in the classroom,” she said.
Briana’s parents describe her as “a wanderlust” who has yet to experience any real travel. The family moved to Lake Wylie three years ago from Ohio. Briana’s mother, Holly, said they rarely travel and never take big vacations, so this will be a true test to see if Briana will be able to realize another of her dreams of studying abroad a year in college.
“I’ve never even been out of the country, so it’s kind of weird to think I’m sending my daughter overseas,” Holly Rinkes said.
The process to be accepted into the Rotary Exchange program involved applications, interviews and, since her experience is a family-to-family exchange, her family had to agree to take the French family’s daughter, Lena, into their Lake Wylie home for most of July. It’s an experience to which both teenager’s families have to be entirely committed.
“We plan to show her the slower pace of Southern living,” Holly Rinkes said.
Since Briana and Lena learned they would be sharing this experience together this summer, they’ve been able to discuss summer plans and learn a bit about each others families. Holly Rinkes said she hopes the French host mother, who is well traveled, can teach Briana a thing or two about safety and even give her some expert packing tips. Briana Rinkes is excited to show Lena how Americans live.
“She’s never lived with a family that’s from the North living in the South so she gets the best of two cultures,” she said.
Holly Rinkes said she and her husband Tim were concerned about their daughter’s safety, and almost told her she couldn’t go — right up until the weekend in February where she attended the Rotary All-Club Conference in Greenville and learned she’d been accepted into the program. There, they got a lot of their questions answered and their fears calmed by program directors.
“It started moving really fast at that point,” Holly Rinkes said.
Since then it’s been a blur of finalizing plans, buying a plane ticket and communicating overseas. The French family plans to spend the month of August in the United States, so the two exchange families will have a chance to meet face-to-face and spend time together, which Holly Rinkes said is a rare opportunity.
As for Briana, she said a few days before departure she was more than ready to start her adventure.
“I’m anxious and I want to get there,” she said. “I’m over the whole tedious packing.”
Katie Rutland: firstname.lastname@example.org