Posted on Mar 26, 2021


Q: Are Rotary Youth Exchanges still taking place?
A: Updated March 2021: The Board has been regularly monitoring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities around the world to determine when it is safe to reinstate the Youth Exchange program. With the continued uncertainty of the pandemic and COVID-19 virus variants, inconsistent disease mitigation efforts, and the global imbalance of vaccine access – the Board has decided to suspend the Youth Exchange program through June 2022

Q: How was this decision made?
A: The Board reviewed a comprehensive risk assessment prepared by Rotary International staff experts, considered feedback from the Rotary Youth Exchange volunteer community, and continues to review detailed, real-time data about the impact of COVID-19 around the world from global health experts and the Rotary Pandemic Task Force. Factors that were carefully considered were the ease and availability of international travel (taking into account border security and travel restrictions), access to medical care and insurance coverage, school delays and closures, and the potential financial impact on participants’ families and Rotary volunteers. Given the global imbalance of access to the COVID-19 vaccine and the financial impact of the pandemic, many areas of the world would be unable to participate in 2021. Moving forward with only the limited number of participating countries with access to the vaccine would contradict Rotary’s core value of fairness and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. When exchanges are permitted to resume in the future, districts will be required to use the safety guidelines and a comprehensive crisis management plan. The Board is confident that they can assess the situation and make the right decisions to ensure a safe and enriching experience for young people through Rotary Youth Exchange.

Q: When can students go on exchange again? 
A: If a district can confirm that it has assessed the risks according to the safety guidelines, students can start long-term or short-term exchanges beginning 1 July 2022.

Q: What is the difference between long-term and short-term exchanges?
A: Long-term exchanges typically last an entire academic year and require the student to be enrolled in school.

Short-term exchanges last from several days to three months and usually occur during school breaks. Because the length is much shorter, it is easier to determine whether there may be any travel restrictions or other impacts related to COVID-19, however districts are still required to follow all of Rotary’s safety guidelines.

Q: Do students who are currently on exchange have to go home?
A: Students who may still be on exchange should plan to return home as soon as it is determined to be possible and safe. Consult travel advisories and guidelines issued by embassies or consular offices, international public health agencies like the World Health Organization, and local health authorities for the latest and most relevant information.

Q: How do we know when it’s safe to plan exchanges?
A: First, make sure your district is certified to participate in Rotary Youth Exchange. Then, closely review the Rotary’s safety guidelines issued by the Board and discuss them with your district Rotary Youth Exchange committee and district governor. It’s important to consider the risks carefully, and to have a comprehensive crisis management plan and a committed team of volunteers to dedicate extra time to communicating with students and families, monitoring local health authority recommendations, and acting quickly if the situation changes. If your district is concerned, the best option may be to suspend your program and resume it only when you are ready. 

Q: What is a crisis management plan?
A: A crisis management plan is a comprehensive and detailed outline of the team that is dedicated to responding to a crisis and the procedures that should be followed to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of everyone involved in a program or activity. The plan should cover various types of crises, such as accidents, violence, natural disasters, political instability, and in this case, health emergencies and disease outbreaks such as COVID-19. According to Rotary’s safety guidelines:
  • A district’s crisis management plan must be reviewed and/or developed in consultation with a local health authority.
  • Each district must have procedures to monitor health and safety developments related to COVID-19, such as travel restrictions and quarantine measures, that could affect either inbound or outbound students.
  • The host district must have a comprehensive communications plan to:
  • Ensure consistent communication between volunteers, students and parents, host families, and Rotary International about important developments related to COVID-19
  • Allow program leaders to quickly locate and communicate with all parties in the event of an emergency
  • A procedure for transporting students home or ensuring their safety if quarantine measures or travel restrictions are implemented during an exchange.
Your plan should list a crisis management team and define each member’s responsibilities for communication, emergency procedures, media relations, and expenses. It's important to consider in advance what factors would prompt canceling or postponing all planned program activities. Also consider what criteria would need to be met to safely resume exchanges. Find more information in the Rotary Youth Protection Guide.

Download the Developing a Crisis Management Plan resource from Rotary International and access our on-demand webinar to learn more about developing a comprehensive plan.

Q: What happens when we’re ready to plan exchanges but we can’t find any partner districts?
A: Many districts have suspended their programs or will do so after reviewing Rotary’s safety guidelines. If your district is having difficulty finding opportunities with established partners, this may be an opportunity to explore alternative ways to keep young people engaged in Rotary, including virtual exchanges and Rotary programs such as Interact and Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). Planning can also continue for Rotary Youth Exchange or New Generations Service Exchange later. District Rotary Youth Exchange officers can use the district chair directory to contact their counterparts and join the Rotary Youth Exchange Discussion Group to meet and share ideas. No district is obligated to participate beyond its ability or willingness.

Q: Do we need approval from Rotary International before we start planning exchanges?
A: You do not need approval from Rotary International to start planning exchanges. So that Rotary staff can support you and help you communicate in the event of an emergency, districts will be required to report program participation before students travel, and you must provide updates within 48 hours of any changes. Instructions for reporting participation will be sent to district leaders in the coming months. The following information will be required for each student who participates in a long-term exchange:
  • Participant’s full name, age, sex, and contact information (email and telephone number)
  • A parent’s or guardian’s full name and contact information (email and telephone number)
  • A parent’s or guardian’s signed consent form, including acknowledgment that personally identifying information will be reported to Rotary International in accordance with Rotary’s data privacy policy and other data privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • Sending district and hosting district numbers
  • Host family’s full names and contact information (email and telephone number and physical address)
  • Start date and end date
Q: How will Rotary communicate with students?
A: Rotary International will communicate with students and families to make sure that they understand Rotary’s youth protection policies, how to access resources related to Rotary Youth Exchange and Rotary’s programs for young leaders, what to expect from the club and district leaders, and who to contact if they have any questions or concerns. Rotary International staff will facilitate communication between students, families, and Rotary volunteers in an emergency. 

Q: What does it mean that some districts voluntarily suspended their programs?
A: Given the uncertainty related to COVID-19 and the potential risks to the health and safety of our students, suspending the program until the situation stabilizes or a vaccine is widely available may be the right decision for some districts. Any decision that prioritizes the health, safety, and well-being of our students is the right decision. Districts should suspend their programs if they determine that’s the best course of action.

Q: What are we supposed to do while in-person exchanges are not permitted?
A: Continue to support Rotary Youth Exchange. Now is the time to strengthen your program, explore alternatives such as virtual exchanges or other Rotary programs such as Interact and Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), and continue planning for a Rotary Youth Exchange or New Generations Service Exchange. Our staff will continue to support Rotary Youth Exchange leaders by providing updated and new resources, sharing engagement strategies, collecting participant information, and addressing any of your questions or concerns. We’re confident that when the program fully resumes, Rotary Youth Exchange will be stronger than ever.

Q: While in-person exchanges are suspended do we risk losing the program?
A: Our members consider their participation in the exchange program to be the highlight of their membership in Rotary. The program will indeed continue when it is safe to do so. Our program is successful thanks to the commitment, knowledge, and passion of our volunteers in enriching the lives of students around the world through these amazing experiences. When the program resumes in-person exchanges we will be stronger than before thanks to Rotary members, with the confidence and trust of participants and their families intact. 

Q: What is a virtual exchange?
A: Virtual exchanges are an engaging alternative to in-person exchanges. They offer young people a unique opportunity to engage and collaborate with people from other cultures and communities online. When they’re structured, safe, and developed with specific student goals and learning outcomes in mind, virtual exchange experiences can be just as valuable as physically going abroad by allowing young people to engage in intercultural dialogue and meet people with different viewpoints from around the world. They can also help students challenge stereotypes, increase empathy, and develop intercultural competencies — all of which can help give them the knowledge and skills they need to become global citizens and peacebuilders.

Q: What if we don’t want to follow the safety guidelines issued by the Board? Can we instead use our own guidelines?
A: No. The safety guidelines adopted by the Board represent a careful and thorough evaluation of all the risks, not just to students, but to host families, volunteers, and Rotary’s reputation. We state unequivocally that student safety is our top priority and these safety guidelines represent our commitment in words and actions. Even though the list of guidelines seems long, it is important to follow them in order to evaluate the risks carefully, have a plan, and instill confidence in students, families, and your community. Many of the guidelines are safety precautions that you may already be following or may have quickly adopted in response to COVID-19. In accordance with Rotary’s youth protection policies for unauthorized exchange activity, any district found to be participating in any exchange activity contrary to this guidance will have its certification to participate in Rotary Youth Exchange suspended for a period of two years. Any activity that puts students at risk will have serious repercussions.

Q: Why isn’t Rotary’s position aligned with other student exchange programs that have decided to continue in some form during the pandemic?
A: The business model of other student exchanges is dependent upon them continuing to be profitable. Because we can put the safety of our participants and communities first, and prioritize a quality experience backed by volunteers, we can afford to take additional time to ensure that our exchange program is safer, equitable, and a fully engaging experience for everyone involved. 

Q: I’m a student, and I want to do a Rotary Youth Exchange. What should I do?
A: Complete our Contact Us form or find a local Rotary club to find out if it is participating in virtual exchanges or how to get involved in other Rotary programs for young leaders. Even though you won’t be able to participate in a traditional Rotary Youth Exchange, you can find out about planning an exchange for the future or learn more about how to get involved in Rotary through Interact, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), or New Generations Service Exchange.

Q: Who should I contact if I have questions?
A: Write to Direct youth protection questions or concerns to


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