Exchange students ready to experience life in Timmins

Two exchange students are already experiencing everything Timmins has to offer.

The Rotary Club of Timmins-Porcupine is hosting two international students — Viktor Gradza from the Czech Republic and Letizia Pottini from Italy — this year as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program.

The students arrived over the weekend and have been settling in with baking butter tarts and four-wheeling.

The exchange program lasts for nine months. It includes some sightseeing and exploring of the area.

Pottini and Gradza are heading down to Muskoka on the weekend to explore more of Ontario.

“I hope I can travel in Canada to discover as many cities as possible,” said Pottini.

While she’s in Canada, Pottini is looking forward to learning about the culture and cuisine.

“I want to learn how to prepare some of the favourite dishes and also share with them my Italian culture,” she said. “I took with me some saffron and some peppers.”

Gradza wants to explore the natural wonders of the countryside during his time here and he’s already accomplished one goal.

“I’ve been in Canada for three days,” he said. “I want to travel through the bushes, because there is so much more nature, and I saw a moose today, and I’m going to send it to my biology teacher because he wants to see it.”

Wildlife is also of interest to Pottini.

“I love animals but in Italy, I’ve never seen a bear,” she said.

Pottoni flew nine hours to Toronto from Rome, and Gradza flew 10 hours from Vienna, but his trip was a little more luxurious than expected.

“They upgraded my ticket to premier economy so I had more leg room, and five-course meal,” he said. “So my first experience with Air Canada was very positive.”

Gradza is looking forward to the cultural exchange and building relationships while here.

“In 20 years, I can come back and meet all the people that I knew from earlier,” he said.

It’s been an intensive journey for Gradza and Pottini to land in Canada.

There were many interviews and other tasks to complete to get this opportunity, said Gradza

“I went on four meetings and five interviews, and in Czech and Slovakia there were 56 students and they all went somewhere but not everyone got their first priority,” he said. “That is the biggest challenge and part of the exchange.”

Pottini said that Rotary International helped the students get ready for the trip and the challenges they might face.

“They teach us psychological skills, for example how to stay with others, and how to stay in touch with our family,” said Pottini. “So it prepares you.”

The Rotary club in Timmins has been hosting international students for the last few years after a 10-year gap.

Two students from O’Gorman High School in Timmins are currently on their own exchange, said June Woodburn, who organizes the exchanges with Saralyn Hayward.

“In order for us to have in-bound students, we have to have out-bound ones,” said Woodburn.

The program has been running internationally since 1929.

“It was only stopped for the world wars and the COVID pandemic, so only three times,” said Pottini.

Amanda Rabski-McColl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,