Pictured, Australian Rotary exchange student Keely Iles pays a visit to Niagara Falls.
By Dan Rankin
Growing up in Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia, Keely Iles has been up and down that country’s east coast from Cairns to Sydney, but travelling to St. Marys in January was the first time she has left her home country.
“I’ve never really travelled,” said Iles, 15, explaining one of the big reasons she wanted to take part in a Rotary exchange. “Australia is really far away from most countries, so I didn’t think I’d really be able to travel much. I’m kind of like a quiet, introverted person, and I knew that doing this would also help that a bit.”
Since arriving here, she’s seen some of the best Southwestern Ontario has to offer, such as the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto and Niagara Falls – not to mention River Valley Tube Slides – with further plans to see a Blue Jays game, attend Rotary conferences in Michigan, and a whole lot more. “In the summer I’m hoping to go into the States a bit,” she said. “I really want to see New York City.”
That would be quite a major city to check off her own personal travel wish list, but judging by her plans after high school, it wouldn’t be the last. “After high school I’m going to go to university, but I don’t know where yet,” she said. “I might not even go in Australia; I might go somewhere else. The ultimate goal is to teach English as a second language in other countries, and travel around a lot. Then I’ll pick a country that I like and settle down there.”
Back home, Iles grew up with her mom and dad, an older brother and sister, and pet dogs. Her father own a furniture store in their town, which her mother helps take care of the paperwork for, when she’s not taking care of administration for a chain of hardware stores. Iles’ interests include drawing – and art in general – and she is also into makeup and cosmetics.
Iles’ hometown of Mudgee, population about 10,000, is about four hours northwest of Sydney and around six hours north of the nation’s capital Canberra. “It’s a very agricultural town really famous for wines and some of our wines are starting to become popular internationally,” she said. “Also things like cattle, sheep and other fruit.”
Back home right now Iles said, it’s autumn, so the temperature is dropping. “Last time I checked it was about 25 degrees,” she said.
Since arriving in Canada, the Grade 10 DCVI student got the chance to experience an authentic Canadian winter, which she said was one of the few things she knew about Canada before making the trip. “I knew that it was cold, with a lot of snow,” she said, before considering what else she had been expecting from the trip. “Basically, I knew it was going to be really cold.”
Since arriving, she said she’s learned just how big Canada is. “I didn’t really know much about the geography of Canada,” Iles said. “I knew I would be close to Toronto, but I didn’t really know just how far away places like Vancouver would be.”
While some St. Marys residents might have been a little annoyed when the frigid, snow and sleet returned in place of warmer spring weather, not Keely. “I was really happy actually,” she said, noting that she has never seen it snow back where she comes from. “I think the last time we even got a little bit of snow in Mudgee was in the 1920s or something.”
Iles is currently being hosted by Steve and Nicole Malcho, where she has gotten to bond with their dog, Miley. “Their house is really nice and they’re really nice,” she said.
“I haven’t really been homesick at all,” she said, explaining that thanks to Facebook, Skype and iMessage she has been in near-daily contact with her parents, sister and friends back in Australia.
“I’m starting to miss my friends a bit and my dogs, but I’ve made friends here and I have a dog here, so that kind of makes up for it,” she said here.
With all that she’s experienced since January, Iles said she can wholeheartedly recommend the Rotary exchange program. “Even for me, coming to a country where I’m not learning a new language and culturally it’s not incredibly different, I’ve still experienced a lot of new things,” she said. “And, judging from other people I know who’ve gone to Europe, they’re having an amazing time, and I’m having an amazing time. So, I’d definitely recommend it. I have met people from all over the world, and definitely people I’ll stay in contact with for the rest of my life.”
For more information about Rotary exchanges, visit RotaryStMarys.ca or email Rotary Club of St. Marys YEO Mark Oliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.