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Counting one year in Belgium, visits to 11 countries and a memorable 18th birthday among her travel highlights, a Feilding High School pupil is urging her fellow teens to follow in her footsteps and sign up for an exchange.
Year 13 pupil Vicki Steven has actually already completed her 13th year at school - but in Belgium.
She has just returned to New Zealand after a year-long exchange trip to the country alongside 40 other secondary school students from New Zealand who headed as far afield as Italy and Switzerland.
The trip saw Vicki and fellow Feilding High pupil Sarah Ellmers travel to Belgium as part of the Feilding Rotary Club's international exchange programme.
Vicki spent her year at Liege's Athenee Royal de Chenee school and Sarah went to an area called Namur, near Brussells.
Vicki has returned to repeat year 13 in New Zealand and will be easing back into her studies after her tour of Europe.
"If I had come straight back into university it might have been difficult to ease back into it," she said.
She also learned one or two things about travel - making excursions to Italy, the Czech Republic, and Germany in her free time - and got to practise her French.
"I was quite lucky to have some French but it was still difficult because what I learned at school is Parisienne . . . in Belgium there are three national languages."
Vicki celebrated her 18th birthday overseas with her new classmates who took her ice-skating.
"When I look back, the best part of doing it was meeting my Belgian friends, they were so accepting and friendly."
Students heading abroad on exchange might find European schooling quite different to New Zealand's, Vicki said.
She took about 13 subjects rather than the five she takes at home, and the school day was much longer and conducted entirely indoors, beginning at 8.30am and finishing after 5pm. Next year she hopes to study international relations at university, with the hope of gaining employment at an overseas embassy when she finishes.
The exchange cost between $15,000 and $20,000 for the year, and the young women put about $5000 each towards it.
Under Rotary rules, the exchange students are not allowed to work, drink alcohol, take drugs, drive or date.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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