#LionsYouthExchange: Leo Madi’s Story

In the summer of 2017, I had the honor of participating in the Lions Youth Camp and Exchange Program in Austria. Prior to this trip, I had never been outside the United States, so I didn’t know what to expect. Now, I realize how valuable traveling is and how much it can impact someone’s life. We are naturally drawn to stereotypes and assumptions, but being able to meet so many incredible people from all around the world taught me that people are people, no matter where they come from. We’re all crazy, silly, talented, and although we speak different languages, have different backgrounds, and are used to different traditions, everyone can get along.

We are naturally drawn to stereotypes and assumptions, but being able to meet so many incredible people from all around the world taught me that people are people, no matter where they come from.

There are many benefits of the Lions youth exchange program, including learning about a different culture through wonderful host families, gaining a better understanding of international peace and cultures, and making lasting friendships from around the world.

My Lions Youth Exchange Host Family

I spent two weeks with a host family before heading off to Lions Camp.  They took me everywhere. We went to their Lions club’s presidential installation, since my host father just finished his term as president. We went out for ice cream almost every day. And we went hiking. Lots and lots of hiking. My host family stay helped to show me Austria’s culture, a bit of standard traditions, and the many differences and similarities.

Austria and California have plenty of basic similarities, but they also have many differences. The first day I arrived in Austria, my host family let me settle into my new room. After a few minutes, I headed over to the large window next to my bed and noticed it was tilted towards me at the top. I panicked, thinking it was broken, and carefully tilted it back to the correct position. The next day as my family took me around their town, I noticed that all the windows were broken! So, as it turns out, windows in Austria, and lots of Europe, are slightly different than California windows.

Throughout the next two weeks, my host parents also took me to the Dachstein, a glacier with an ice castle,  and they helped me get to know some of the other students before camp.

Become a youth exchange host family.

Lions Camp Sound of Music

Before I knew it, the first two weeks were over and it was time for the Lions Camp Sound of Music, which brought together 31 students from 21 different countries to focus on music. Throughout our two weeks, we had two performances. The first was the “Nations Eve,” where each of the 21 countries performed a song from their home. The following week we had our final performance featuring all our choir and solo songs. Normal camp days included choir practice, solo rehearsals, meals and excursions.

The camp directors did an amazing job of showing us many different aspects of Austria. They brought us to major cities, salt mines, interactive museums, waterskiing, hiking – something new every day. It was truly incredible how much they did to make our stay memorable and to show us different parts of their country.

Peace and International Understanding

During the Lions youth camp, we shared stories of what we expected our fellow campers’ countries to be like, the differences between our home country, and some of what we’ve learned so far.

For example, one of my best friends from camp is Uriel, from Mexico. A lot of the other campers and most of the staff members were amazed that we got along so well. Based off the media from their home countries, many people couldn’t believe that someone from the U.S. and someone from Mexico could be friends, so it was interesting to break that stereotype.

We expressed how nice it was to be at a camp where everyone could be treated equally. One girl shared that before the camp, she was terrified that she wasn’t going to be good enough. In her home country, she couldn’t afford music lessons, so it was nerve-wrecking to come to a camp all about music. Then she revealed that everyone was so kind, encouraging, and welcoming that she felt like she was worth something. Her story hit everyone the hardest.

In her home country, she couldn’t afford music lessons, so it was nerve-wrecking to come to a camp all about music. Then she revealed that everyone was so kind, encouraging, and welcoming that she felt like she was worth something. Her story hit everyone the hardest.

I’m so used to the customs and cultures of the U.S. that I don’t realize people in other countries must fight and work for some things that are simply given to me. I also learned that there are some things that I love about my country, and some things I wish we could take from other cultures.

Sent Home with Love

It was truly amazing to be surrounded by 30 other students from all around the world and to still get along so well. At the end of our camp, Sara-Estelle, a camper from Germany, asked the staff if we could have 31 envelopes with the name of a different camper on each one. We laid them on the floor of the choir room so anyone that wanted to write a note to that camper could. On the last day as we stepped onto the bus to go to the airport, the envelopes were handed out. Not a single person was left without a note and each envelope was bursting with positive words and love from the other campers.

Thank you, Lions

Now, over a year later, I’m still in contact with many people from camp. We text, call and I’ve FaceTimed with some so they could walk around their home town and show me their favorite spots. I am now a member of my local Leo club, committed to the Lions’ mission – We Serve. Thank you, Lions, for giving me and young people around the world the opportunity to learn, grow and become ambassadors for peace.

Get involved! Start a local youth camp and exchange program.