The O’Fallon Progress
Patrick Murphy recently took off for a Saint Louis University study abroad program in Spain, and said he felt more prepared because of his year as a Rotary exchange student in Lithuania.
After Murphy graduated from O’Fallon Township High School in 2018, he delayed college for a year to spend the year abroad. He had been accepted for the Rotary program in 2017 and spent months in preparation; he returned earlier this summer.
Murphy wanted to apply because he has always had an aptitude for foreign languages and wanted to broaden his horizons. He had previously been part of the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards and its camp.
Patrick is the son of Kristin and Michael Murphy of O’Fallon. His mother teaches second grade at Central School and his father is an attorney with the Belleville law firm of Freeark Harvey and Mendillo.
“I spent my whole life in O’Fallon. We went to Mexico on vacation, but I had never left North America,” he said. “I’m really interested in other cultures. This was a great opportunity.”
His career plans are to major in public health.
“I want to make a difference. Instead of being in medicine, I would to be able to affect a whole group of people instead of a few,” he said.
During a recent interview, Murphy said “getting a life” is as important as studies. And learning about other cultures has multiple benefits.
“When you share cultures, there is an understanding. That means less hate in the world,” he said. “The world is a lot bigger than the Midwest and you learn about so much.”
While staying with his host family in the capital of Vilnius, Lithuania, Murphy traveled to other countries, including Latvia, Estonia and Finland. He visited seven European countries during a 16-day trip.
“I was able to go to major cities and small towns,” he said.
Lithuanians ‘very welcoming’
He found Lithuanians “very welcoming” and he was able to immerse himself in their culture.
“I still talk to my host family,” he said.
“There have been massive changes there during the last 30 years,” he said. “Things are measured before and after their independence.”
Russian is the second language, and American fashion and culture is very much a part of Lithuanian lifestyles.
Murphy had to attend school, even though it’s what they refer to as a “gap year,” because of the way the visas are set up for students.
He adapted to their dark winter, with about 25 hours of light total in December.
“Summers are really nice there, mild,” he said.
Murphy had not been prepared for public transportation, and now that he has become adept at it, feels more confident about living in Spain.
“You have to learn it because you’re on your own,” he said. “I feel comfortable about Spain because I’m more familiar with it.”
Murphy also said he feels more confident now that he has a good network with other exchange students.
“It’s really important that you share your experiences together,” he said.
‘These kids are risk-takers’
Becoming a global citizen is more important than ever, noted David Vail, outbound coordinator for Rotary District 6510 that encompasses not only O’Fallon but Southern Illinois from East St. Louis to Evansville, and south to the state border.
“As we become more of a global economy, we realize it’s not getting smaller, it is only going to get bigger. The kids that have an international understanding are in demand,” he said.
Vail belongs to the O’Fallon Noon Rotary Club. The O’Fallon Sunrise Rotary Club sponsored Murphy.
“Patrick is a brilliant young man and a great example for others to follow,” Vail said. “We were aware of him because he has taken advantage of what Rotary offered, and he was a role model in Model UN. He is truly international now.”
Vail said he enjoys his position because when he was in the U.S. Air Force, he lived in five different countries, and understands the related challenges. He worked as a federal civil worker at U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base after that. Now retired, he became involved in Rotary a few years ago.
“I know what it’s like to live in a foreign country and adapt to their cultural norms,” he said.
“These kids are risk-takers. They have a sense of adventure. They can relate to a new environment. It’s a challenge, but they learn so much,” Vail said. “They don’t have their parents solving problems for them. Through this experience, they figure out what they want to do and then set goals.
“We can hardly wait to see what they can do.”
In 2017, the district interviewed 16 students and their parents, and accepted 11 for overseas assignments. They were from Belleville, Carbondale, Carterville, Anna-Jonesboro, Fairview Heights, Freeburg, Marion, Mt. Carmel, O’Fallon, Swansea and Williamson County. The Rotary started the exchange program in 1959, sending students to Europe, Asia and South America. Vail said they currently work with 42 countries.
Lithuania became a destination in 2015, and last year, they sent six students there.
Additional info on Rotary exchange program
In 2017, the Rotary had 9,053 youth exchange students worldwide. Those are the most up-to-date numbers, Vail said. They were supported by 5,581 clubs. In O’Fallon, both the Noon and the Sunrise Rotary Clubs sponsor an “inbound” student, coming from a different country and attending O’Fallon Township High School for a year.
The Rotary Club’s Youth Exchange Scholarship appeals to students who dream of traveling the world and living in another country. The program is valued at more than $24,000, with room, board, tuition and monthly stipend for a high school year abroad. Qualified applicants must be 15- to 18-and-a-half-years-old at the time of departure.
The scholarships are made possible by the generosity of Rotary partners overseas and local clubs in District 6510 (Southern Illinois).
The student and/or family pays for airfare, medical insurance, and personal and optional expenses. Assignments are not made until January before the students depart. They ask each student for their top 12 selections.
“They have to be a bit flexible,” Vail said. “We do not guarantee their top pick.”
To learn more about the Rotary Youth Exchange Scholarship, student and parent information meetings are set for 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, at Faith Lutheran Church, 520 E. U.S. 50, O’Fallon; and 6:30-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, at Carbondale High School, 1301 E. Walnut St., Carbondale.