By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – When classes started Aug. 28, Lone Peak High School was absent one Big Sky student, and plus one international student.

Big Sky’s Chambers Moline is spending the school year in Austria, and a 16-year-old Austrian named Matthias Buchner is settling in for the year as part of a program called Youth Exchange that Rotary Club of Big Sky is participating in for the first time.

“It’s a neat program. Life changing,” said Daryl Hansen, the Youth Exchange officer for Montana. “All of the kids come back with tremendous stories.”

Hansen said his granddaughter, Talia, participated in an exchange in Brazil when she was 16 and has stayed in contact with friends she made there since. “She talks to these kids all over the world every day,” he said. Talia now speaks fluent Portuguese and Spanish and is considering switching her career path from medicine to international relations or law.

“We intentionally don’t send kids to English-speaking countries because we think part of the experience is learning another language,” Hansen said, adding that one Montana student he worked with a few years ago got a job in a Chinese restaurant in preparation for her year in Taiwan.

Hansen said Moline found a German-speaker in Big Sky to help introduce her to the language. “The last report I got from her a couple of days ago, she’s having a fabulous time and she’s been there about three weeks,” Hansen said.

This year, Hansen helped coordinate the exchanges of eight “outbounds”—Montana students headed overseas—and nine “inbounds,” or students entering the state from other countries.

Hansen said he has contacts through Rotary in 80 countries, but he works most frequently with six countries for both outbound and inbound students: Austria, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Italy and Taiwan. He’s gotten so familiar with the cycles students go through while overseas that he’s able to predict when they’ll start dreaming in their new language: usually in the first half of December.

Kyle Pomerenke, the president of the Rotary Club of Big Sky, said the cross-cultural aspect of the program appealed to Big Sky Rotarians. “Daryl Hansen has been involved in this for years and years and he pitched this idea to our club and we readily accepted it,” he said.

The hosting Rotary Club covers school tuition and orientation and provides a monthly allowance, approximately $100 per month, to the inbound student. The local club also helps locate families willing to host inbound students. The school year is split between three families, with each hosting the exchange student for about three and a half months. “Host families are critical for this,” Pomerenke said.

“I know the young man that’s there [in Big Sky] is going to open some eyes because he’s a great young kid,” Hansen said of Buchner. “I’m sure [the Youth Exchange Program] will be continuing on there for years.”

The Rotary Club of Big Sky is accepting applications for local students interested in studying abroad for the 2018-19 school year. Applications are due Sept. 15. For more information call Elana Wexell, the local Youth Exchange coordinator, at (406) 209-0113.