Fenwick student Jack Kornowske ’22 takes part in the Rotary International’s Youth Exchange Program.
By Mark Vruno
Fenwick parents Diane Ellsworth and Pete Kornowske have four children, including twin boys Eric and Jack, who will be sophomores this coming school year. (Older sibling Will is a senior Friar.) Of the twins, “Jack is the more independent one,” their mother says. She is about to find out just how self-sufficient her 15-year-old son is, as he embarks in mid-August on an 11-month study opportunity near Berlin, Germany, as part of the Rotary Club of Oak Park – River Forest’s Youth Exchange Program. The cultural experience will feature several host families, not just one.
“We host two [Rotary] students per year,” explains Mrs. Ellsworth, who hails from nearby Norridge and became familiar with the program from a friend who is a Rotarian host. “My friend once ran a school in France and had great experiences hosting,” adds Diane. Ellsworth-Kornowske’s Oak Park house was the U.S. home of a junior student from Brazil attending Oak Park-River Forest High School this past spring. Last fall they hosted a student from Italy who was a guest at St. Patrick High School in Chicago. The family also has hosted other foreign-exchange students, from France and Japan, in the past.
As for Jack spending almost a year away from home in Germany, his mother admits to being a little “freaked out” by the prospect of her young, teenage son traveling, by himself, across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. “I was preparing for my oldest to go to college,” she explains. And now, this! Kornowske is one of eight students sponsored by the Rotary district to study abroad for the 2019-20 school year. Rotary International handles the logistics; each participating family is responsible for their child’s airfare and travel insurance.
Visiting an English-speaking country is not an option for students participating the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, Jack notes. “I was asked to rank my top 12 countries,” he recalls. At first he thought he was heading to Lithuania, number 7 on his list. However, in May, Outbound Coordinator Sue DeBolt (Rotary District 6450) and Youth Exchange Officer Lesley Gottlinger notified the family that his destination had changed to Germany. Soon, passport in hand, he will be on his way to board an airplane at O’Hare’s International Terminal.
Sprechen Sie Deutsche?
Young Kornowske does not speak fluent German, so to get ready for his 4,400-mile journey he has been working with a language tutor this summer. “Rotary helps with the language skills — they expect Jack to be fluent after three months,” his mom reports. He will attend a language camp his first week in Germany. And he won’t be allowed to text or FaceTime his family in Oak Park; at least not at first. As part of the Rotary program’s deeply immersive strategy, Jack cannot communicate with his parents or siblings at all for those first 90 days, which makes his mother even more anxious.