Imagine being 17 years old and heading off to another country for an entire year by yourself.

That’s what three incredibly brave local students are doing on Wednesday, January 17.

Tauranga and Western Bay students Cleo Putty and Hope Kennerley from Ōtūmoetai College, and Daisy Bryant from Katikati College, are heading to the other side of the world for the opportunity of a lifetime.

The girls say they are nervous but excited.

“It feels quite surreal at the moment,” says Hope.

The students will be acting as Ambassadors for New Zealand while in their chosen countries.

Cleo will be going to Belgium, Daisy will be going to Germany, and Hope will be going to Brazil.

None of the students speak the primary language of each country, so they will face the experience of learning the language in full immersion and navigating through the different cultures.

The students say they are very nervous about learning a language while they are there.

“I think it will be hard with the communication barrier, but that’s the best way to learn,” says Cleo.

The girls will be spending three to four months with three to four different families. These families have all volunteered to host a student doing this exchange program, meaning there is no accommodation cost for the students.

Rotary Youth Exchange is organising the exchange, and RYE Chairperson for the Central North Island, Paul Higson says this is an incredible opportunity that will give the students the chance to experience life in another country.

The opportunity gives the students an “outlook on different cultures and experience on how other cultures live,” says Paul.“They go out for a year, they’ll come back and they’ll know another language, they’ll have a broader outlook on life and a much better understanding of other cultures.”

The students must follow rules whilst on exchange such as no drinking, no driving and no dating, says Paul.

If these rules are broken they can end up being sent home early from their trip, he says.

“Rotary prepares the kids really well, as a parent you feel supported,” says Cleo’s mum Fiona Putty.

The students each have to pay for their flights and living expenses.

“They do get an allowance from Rotary in the countries that they are going to,” says Paul.

When they are in their destinations Rotary will organise group trips that the students can choose to go on, says Paul.

“The main benefits are that the schooling doesn’t cost anything and being hosted doesn’t cost anything,” says Paul.

Preparing for their travels.

Paul says applications and interviews were all a part of the process for these students to be chosen for the opportunity given by Rotary.

The three students are a part of a group of students from all over the North Island taking up this opportunity.

The girls say they have completed orientation days to learn how to deal with homesickness as they will be away from home and their families for a whole year.

Other students from Auckland, Northland, Waikato and Hawkes Bay are also heading off on their exchange year on Wednesday.

“It was nice meeting the other students who are also going on exchange and getting closer to them so we know we’re not alone going over there. We’re all in the same position,” says Cleo.

The group of students from around New Zealand will be stopping in Dubai before heading to their chosen countries.

“They are going on a chaperoned trip, they’ll stop there and do some of the sites in Dubai before flying off to their destinations where they’ll be met by representatives from Rotary and their host families,” says Paul.

Impact on their futures.

This opportunity will give them a wealth of knowledge that they can take into their future careers including a second language.

On top of this, they will receive a Rotary Youth Exchange certificate which they say will be incredibly useful when applying for jobs later on and adding to their CVs.

The girls are supposed to be heading into NCEA level 3 and year 13 this year.  While they will be studying and doing papers while overseas these grades will not transfer over to NCEA.

The girls plan to apply for a discretionary entry when applying for university. Due to universities looking at NCEA level 2 results for entry, the girls can still get into university.

“Essentially the university will take into account the fact that we have been in school systems and been in year 13 but the grades we get in Brazil or Belgium don’t count,” says Cleo.

All three girls plan on continuing their studies after secondary school.

Hope wants to study digital marketing, Cleo wants to study global studies and Daisy wants to study nursing.

“From now on we are looking for more potential exchange students to go out for a year from January 2025,” says Paul.

Click here for further information and an application form.

If anyone is interested in getting involved, contact Paul Higson by emailing