Prom and graduation are exciting times in every high school senior’s life, but Layne Rylander has a loftier experience to look forward to: spending what would be her senior year in St. Nabord, .

Her interest was sparked after a foreign exchange student visited her Spanish class during her junior year at Lake Highlands High School . 

After telling her parents about what she had learned and her interest, they met her with full support.

“I immediately said, ‘Great, let’s do it.’” Layne’s mom, Carole Rylander, says. “I immediately thought: This is right for her. I had no idea how to do it, though.”

To obtain information, Carole contacted Jane McCurdy, Layne’s Spanish teacher, who recommended Rotary International’s Youth Exchange program, which sends about 8,000 students on exchanges annually.

Getting accepted into the program involved submitting a 19-page application including pictures of Layne, her family, her house and her interests. She also had to go through an interview process with members of the Youth Exchange Committee and former foreign exchange students.

“This isn’t a competitive program,” Carole says. “They’re just looking for kids who want to go for the right reasons.”

Layne was one of those kids who received an acceptance letter from Rotary International.

“It was like a huge weight had been lifted. I was about to cry I was so excited,” Layne says.

But the acceptance letter brought challenges as well. In order to do the exchange, Layne had to cram two years’ worth of high school into one.

“I gave up a lot of free time on weekends and evenings,” Layne says of her rigorous study schedule.

Due to her hard work, including taking extra classes through Texas Tech and Richland College programs, she was able to graduate in May. She also found time to continue with basketball and band, take the SAT and ACT exams, and apply and be accepted to Austin College, all before she was scheduled to leave for France. 

All of this is for the experience, Layne says.

“To be taken out of my life thus far and the chance to have a really fun experience before college is what interests me the most.”

Her ambition to travel and explore drives her, but she is a little worried about the language barrier.

Mom’s not worried though: “She’s at her best in new situations with new people.”

Layne left for France returns home in June. During her foreign exchange trip, she’ll live with a host family and attend school.

Layne remains as excited about the opportunity now as she was at the beginning.

“I am most excited about meeting new people, experiencing a different culture, and being an ambassador for Lake Highlands, Dallas, Texas, and our country.

“This will be an experience of a lifetime,” she says. “And I want to make the most of it … to build understanding between my community here and my host community in France.”