Malraux High School in pastoral Remiremont, France, doesn’t have a prom, school sports or any of the other extracurricular activities and social events that American students typically look forward to their senior year. But Layne Rylander, who is spending what would be her senior year at Malraux, didn’t mind giving up school spirit and dances for an adventure of a lifetime.

Layne’s interest was sparked after a foreign exchange student visited her Spanish class during her junior year at Lake Highlands High School. When she mentioned it to her parents, they were supportive.

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

So Carole called 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 with pictures of Layne, her family, her house and her interests. She also had to undergo 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 thrilled when she received an acceptance letter from Rotary International. But it came with challenges. 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.

Because of her hard work, including taking extra classes through Texas Tech and Richland College programs, she was able to graduate in May 2005. 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 left for France.

Layne’s experience has been worth her efforts, her mother says. Though Carole hasn’t seen her daughter since June, not even for Christmas (Rotary prefers that exchange students experience the holidays with their host families), she couldn’t be happier for her.

“She’s having a blast. She’s a kid who just loves change, and she feels alive and energized when meeting new people,” she says. “I think she’s found her calling in life to do something like this.”

Layne was worried about the language barrier before she left, but she hasn’t had any trouble communicating. Just three weeks into her schooling, she passed a note to a friend in class. Her teacher confiscated it and reprimanded Layne, then read the note and complimented her French.

The experience also has enabled her to break down stereotypes and fulfill her goal of being an ambassador for her community and her country.

“Once I start speaking with people, they get past that I’m from the United States and start to relate to me as a person,” Layne says. “I’ve learned that you can’t relate to people as a culture. You have to relate to people on an individual basis. Everyone is different, and in the end we’re all just humans.”