COLUMBIA CITY — After graduation, some students start packing for college, but come August, Columbia City High School graduate, Madisson Hodges, will be packing for Mazatlan, Mexico.
Hodges was selected as the Columbia City Rotary Club’s outbound foreign exchange student. When Hodges graduated from CCHS, she actually completed her honors diploma in three years.
“I’ll go to high school there in Mexico, but my classes won’t count for anything since I already graduated. That’s OK, it will be like my senior year, just in Mexico,” said Hodges.
Although Mexico might be foreign to Hodges, who doesn’t speak Spanish, traveling to other countries is not. At the age of 12, Hodges and her mother, Jarin, flew to the Philippines on an adventure that ended with a new family member.
Hodges said, “We adopted my brother, Albert, from the Philippines. June 22 is his ‘gotcha day,’ the day that we got to pick up Albert and he was ours.”
Accroding to Lee Baatz, the Rotary Club’s exchange coordinator, the students interested in the exchange program go through an application process as well as an interview process.
“The applicants have to meet an age standard and be in the upper half of their class academically. Then they are judged by the local club on their community involvement and volunteer service. We look for students who represent the Rotary’s motto of, ‘service above self,’” said Baatz.
Once the student makes it through the local club’s selection process, they are then moved up to the district Rotary Club where a committee judges and selects the individuals that will be outbound.
Hodges said she originally wanted to go to the Philippines.
“Mexico was my fourth choice. But now, looking at it, every thing about Mexico was perfect. It’s less expensive to fly there, my mom can drive there and we can still talk on our cell phones.”
Hodges will stay with Rotary Club members who will serve as host families for her. According to Hodges, she will stay with three different families for about four months each.
For more than 30 years, the Rotary Club has worked to host students in the exchange program.
“The transportation costs are the responsibility of the student and their family. Our local club offers host families here a small stipend of about $800 and we pay for school activity fees,”said Baatz.
Taking a trip to a foreign country is one thing, but having to live there for an extended period of time is a different story. But Hodges is crossing the border with a fearless attitude.
She said, “I’m not scared. I talk to a lot of people who think they can do it. I don’t see what the big deal is. I feel so blessed that I was the one that was chosen to see the things the way I do; that God chose me to get to do these things.”
The intrepid spirit that Hodges has, doesn’t quite filter to her mom. As the date for Hodges to leave gets closer, Jarin tries to not think about her daughter living in a foreign country for a year, however, denial does not equal delay. Hodges will depart for Mexico some time between Aug. 12 and 18.
“When she was trying to get accepted to go, I was half thinking I don’t want her to do it, but I know that this is what she is called to do and I can’t stop her,” said Jarin. “What I really want to do is bury my head in the sand. I hate it when she’s gone for two nights so a year is going to be really hard. There have been times, and she doesn’t know this, that I have been on the floor sobbing my guts out for an hour. I know its just a year, but I won’t get to see her at all. I know I am going to cry and pray my guts out.”
Hodges said that her time in the Philippines, although it was just for 12 days and she was only 12 years old, had a lifelong impact on her.
“I want to be a missionary. I just want to be able to help people and give to them what we have here,”said Hodges. “Having Albert, my brother, and having to be in the Philippines to get him made me see life differently.”
The Rotary Club has made an impact on Hodges as well.
“It’s amazing what Rotary does. Rotary makes the world so small. I talk to my friend from Brazil that has friend where I am going to go. It is so cool how Rotary connects people,” said Hodges.
“I wish that it was required to be an exchange student. If so, there would be no fighting and people would have more understanding. When you’re getting to know someone in a different part of the world, you start off being different, but you find out that you are more alike than you thought. I just want this experience to make me more than what I already am.”
Baatz said that the Columbia City Rotary Club is looking for host families for incoming exchange students as well as students who are interesting in traveling and studying abroad.
For more information on the exchange program, contact Baatz at 691-0338.