Two Exchange Opportunities in Winterset

Winterset is very fortunate to be able to offer a variety of cultural and travel opportunities to our students through the schools and other organizations in the city and county. Two of these opportunities are currently in the process of seeking new students and families to participate, so I wanted to write a post to acquaint you with the Winterset Japanese Friendship Exchange Program for 6th and 7th grade students, and the Rotary Youth Exchange Program for students age 15-18 (and potential host families). If you’ve ever been interested in either program, now is the time to speak up!

Winterset Japanese Friendship Exchange

My daughter, Mara, participated with the most recent group of students who traveled to Japan with the Winterset Japanese Friendship Exchange Program this past August. It was an incredible success, and I can say with full confidence that it was a safe, extremely well-organized, top-notch experience that will stay with her for a lifetime. It was also surprisingly affordable, as our group of 10 students and their families managed to fundraise enough to pay for each student’s plane ticket — woo hoo!

2015/16 participants (L to R) included Nicholas Peña, Khloe King, Kinsey Beebe, Jackson Kimball, Emma Dole, Carson Boyle, Paige Anderson, Kailey Beebe, Kiernan Blanchard, and Mara Feirer.

For about 25 years, the City of Winterset has participated in this wonderful friendship exchange program with the city of Minami Alps, Japan. The way it works is that every other summer, a group of students and their chaperones from Minami Alps come to Winterset to be hosted for ten days by families that have chosen to participate in the program on our side, and the following year, our students and chaperones make a return trip for ten memorable days in Japan. When they go, our students stay in the homes of the same students they hosted the previous summer.

Made possible by sponsorship and partial funding by the City of Winterset, this program is open to area students who are currently in sixth and seventh grade. If your sixth or seventh-grade student might be interested in participating in the next Winterset Japanese Friendship Exchange Program, you and your student are invited to attend one of two informational meetings coming up on November 15th at 6:30 pm and November 20th at 5:30 pm, both at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Winterset. There is no requirement for participation, other than indicating an interest and being able to participate in group meetings (approximately once a month) to plan fundraisers and activities for the group. There may be a limit on how many students the group can accept, but so far, every student who has expressed interest has been able to participate. If at some point they have more interested participants than they can accommodate, the board who oversees the program (led by Mr. Chris Nolte) will create a process for selection, such as a student essay. The last group included ten students and three parent-chaperones: Dr. Amy Kimball, Holly Peña, and Candi Dole.


Upon her return from Japan last August, Mara was asked by Chris Nolte to reflect on her experience in the program. Here is some of what she wrote.

“The most important thing that I gained from the program was a new perspective. The moment that I stepped off of the plane into an airport across the world, I felt that something was different, and it was more than just the languages of the signs or the foods that I saw people eating. I knew that the place I was in was a place so different from the abstract ways that I had imagined it. Intellectually I knew of the differences between our cultures; but as I walked through the hallways and eventually outside onto the bus that took us through Tokyo and into the suburb where we stayed, I felt this massive gap between where I was and what I was used to.  And then, as the other students and I met our host families, we found it surprisingly easy to form relationships. 

Yasuki, the father of the student that I was paired with, sent emails with pictures and the day’s highlights to my family every day. He and his wife, Yoko, provided me with everything that I needed. They made sure that I had the information needed for each day, and made sure that I was always comfortable. I was always encouraged to try new things, but I wasn’t pressured to be the perfect houseguest. The bond I’ve formed with them is going to last for the rest of our lives, and was definitely one of the most important parts of the trip.

Mara with her host family in Minami Alps, Japan

Beautiful mountains surround Minami Alps – instinctively named – and there are orchards of trees everywhere. The architecture looks different, the cars look different, the clothes are different – it feels exotic. I remember sitting in my host family’s car, on the way to Tokyo Disneyland, and staring out the window and up at the Tokyo Tower. It was bigger than I ever thought that it would be. I’m sure that they laughed a little bit at how fascinated I was, but it was one of the best moments of my life, being in the middle of it all.

This program is a once in a lifetime experience. I miss the Nagata family, my hosts, so much and I am so thankful that I was able to know them and visit them. If you are being offered this experience, please don’t hesitate to take it.” ~ Mara Feirer



Rotary Youth Exchange Program

Next, I’d like to share an opportunity for Winterset families and older students. The Winterset Rotary Club provides support for many local projects, and one that they are focusing on in the month of November is the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. This is an opportunity for local families to host an incoming foreign exchange student, and/or for 15 to 18-year-old students to spend an academic year as a foreign exchange program abroad.

Inbound: An Opportunity for Winterset Families

For the “inbound” part of the program, the Rotary Club is currently building a list of families who may be interested in hosting a foreign exchange student in their home for several months, typically a semester, possibly in the 2017/18 school year or in the future. Each student that comes to Winterset through the Rotary Exchange program is carefully selected. They are devoted students who have an interest in being immersed in American culture through school, travel, and everyday home and family life. Students typically arrive in August and stay for nine to ten months, splitting their time with two to three families while they are here. Many Winterset families have done this with such great success that they continue to communicate regularly with their students to this day. Having a student from another culture in your home for several months is a rich and rewarding learning experience that the whole family can share.

The Winterset Rotary Club provides support for exchange students by paying for all their school-related expenses while here, as well as $75 per month for clothing and incidentals. The Rotary District 6000 website,, offers a guide for host families and some more information about what is required of host homes (students need to have their own bedroom but can share a bathroom, etc.).

Winterset graduate Tom Martens (left) with former Rotary exchange student Christoph Westendorf from Germany (right). This photo was taken when Christoph returned to the states to be the best man in Tom’s wedding in 2013.

Former host mother Debi Martens reflected on her family’s experience with a Rotary exchange student. “Before moving to Winterset, we had discussed hosting a foreign exchange student. When we arrived, we still wanted to try it so we talked with Rotary and started the process. Rotary is very well versed on this program, as are the students that come. We were to host a student for half of the year. The Elliot family would host first, then we would get him. We had several students to choose from, and decided on Christoph Westendorf from Melle, Germany. He came in the fall of 2008 and our family hasn’t been the same. He was very helpful and always eager to learn what we were doing and why. He was amazing because of his interest in us and the goings on around him. He is still a big part of our family.~ Debi Martens

If you think you might be interested in hosting a student someday and would like more information, simply contact Dan Nielsen at, or talk to any Winterset Rotarian. They’ll make sure to pass your interest along to our Youth Exchange committee.

Outbound: For Students Ages 15-18

On the outbound side of the program, now is the time for students to consider the opportunity to spend a year abroad as a Rotary Exchange Student. Applications for traveling in the ‘17/18 school year opened on November 1st and must be complete by January 1st. Students must be between the ages of 15 and 18 at the time of departure. There are many locations available, and students can indicate their top three choices of destination from a carefully cultivated list, where Rotary members in other countries are waiting to welcome and support them. Again, if this is something your student may be interested in, we encourage you to talk to Dan Nielsen or any Rotarian for more information. Winterset’s last outbound Rotary Exchange student was Adelina Reels, who returned from a successful ten months in Germany last June.

Winterset’s current Rotary Exchange Student, Jacqueline Kgohloane of South Africa, will be returning home in December.

Winterset families Chris and Laura Bertelson, Gary and Pat Barker, and Stephan Meyer and Lynette Judd have enjoyed hosting Jacqueline Kgohloane in their homes this year. The Rotary Club is preparing to say farewell to her in December.

Lynette has enjoyed sharing the beauty of Iowa with Jackie this fall!

Again, here’s the bottom line on how to express interest in these two programs:

Winterset Japanese Friendship Exchange informational meetings will be held on November 15th at 6:30 pm and November 20th at 5:30 pm, both at St. Paul Lutheran Church, 1120 N. 8th Ave. in Winterset, for 6th and 7th grade students and their parents. If you are interested but unable to make one of these meetings, contact Chris Nolte at

To express interest or request information about hosting a Rotary exchange student in your home or traveling as an exchange student to another country, contact Dan Nielsen at or any member of the Winterset Rotary Club.

As always, thank you for reading The Winterset Citizen!