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Recent grads exchange experiences abroad
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Chloe Riniker stands at a beach in Italy during her Lions YouthCamp and Exchange trip in July. - photo by Dena Harris

HAZEL GREEN—Two recent graduates of Southwestern High School had memorable summer experiences through the Lions Youth Camp and Exchange Program.

Classmates Emily Erschen, daughter of Jason and Renee Erschen, and Chloe Riniker, daughter of Jacob and Crystal Riniker, spent four weeks overseas exploring new cultures. Emily visited Finland from July 4-27 and Chloe spent her four weeks touring Italy.

“Everyone should go out and see the world,” Riniker said.

The Youth Camp and Exchange Program (YCE) gives thousands of young people the opportunity to experience life in other cultures and gain new understanding of the world through travel abroad. Unlike some youth exchange programs, YCE does not involve academic study or employment. Instead, participants are encouraged to use this travel opportunity to represent their home countries and share their own culture while learning about and embracing a new one, forging the way to becoming young ambassadors for peace and international understanding.

YCE is composed of various Lions Youth Exchanges and/or Lions Youth Camps arranged by Lions clubs around the world. Participants for these camps must be 16-21 years old. Anyone can go; they don’t have to be a member of a Lions Club.

Both Emily and Chloe were first informed about the opportunity when Ben August presented at their school. Emily said she joined the Li-ons Club this year and the topic resurfaced; Chloe said her parents encouraged her to take this opportunity after hearing more about it.

“There are over 80 Lions Camps around the world to choose from, all with a specific purpose,” Emily said. “I chose Finland because I was most interested in nature. Finland is known for being pure and natural. It has some of the purist lakes in the world and the cleanest air. I thought it would be nice to see that.”

Chloe said she chose Italy because she had heard great things about the food, people and culture.

“I thought everyone from around the world would be so different, but I feel they are more similar with the same priorities as us,” Chloe said. “Everyone seems to be in everybody’s business now, especially with politics. I feel we can all get along better knowing how similar we are to everyone else.”

Chloe stayed with host families near Milan for two weeks then traveled with the camp in southern Italy for two weeks. Her experiences included visits to churches, the ocean and many of the larger cities.

“Everything was so cool,” Chloe said. “I couldn’t pick just one favorite place.”

Emily stayed with a host family for two weeks and camped for one week. She said she did a lot of hiking and swimming. She went to the highest point in Finland to see the Midnight Sun and even met the real Santa Claus.

“It’s not touristy in the way the U.S. can be,” Emily said. “It’s more about nature.”

Her favorite part was getting to meet kids from all over the world, learning a new culture and why they take pride in their country.

If anybody is interested in learning more, Erschen said to talk to your local Lions Club for information.

“I’ve already recommended it to two friends and my sister, and they all want to go,” Chloe said.

More information about YCE can be found at

“It is different from America,” Chloe said. “I learned so much about the Italian culture and people.”

“It was totally worth the experience,” Emily said. “It was amazing.”