Lalo Rojas arrived in Waupaca on a frigid January day.
“There was snow, and it was cold. I had never seen snow like that before coming here,” said the 17 year old.
Back home in Colombia, the temperature hovers between 80 and 90 degrees all year. It may dip into the 40s in Bogota, which is at a higher elevation than the city of Neiva, where he lives.
When Rojas left Wisconsin on Dec. 5 to return to his family and home, it was another cold day in Waupaca.
But, it was not as cold as his first day here, and there was not a flake of snow on the ground.
Many of his friends made the trip to Austin Strauebel International Airport in Green Bay to see him depart.
“I have mixed feelings – sadness and super excited to see my family. Today was very sad at school,” he said on the evening before he left.
Rojas spent almost 10 months in Waupaca as a Rotary exchange student.
“I wanted to experience a new life,” he said. “The U.S. was my first choice, because of the English.”
It was not his first trip to the United States.
“I came to the U.S. six times before this. Since I was very young, I always loved Disney and New York,” he said.
Three families hosted him during his time in Waupaca.
Rojas first stayed with the family of John and Mary Ann Snider. He spent the summer at the home of Bob and Kim Spoerl and ended his visit with the family of Erik and Kay Ellingson.
“All of them are great. It was super perfect,” Rojas said. “All the families are different, but super nice.”
One of his favorite parts of being an exchange student was his Rotary trip to Hawaii last March.
When asked which of Wisconsin’s four seasons he liked best, he said, “My favorite season was summer, for sure.”
Rojas prefers warm days, because his favorite sport to play is soccer.
At Waupaca High School, he played on the varsity soccer team, the golf team and was on stage as part of the cast of this year’s high school musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
“That was like my first time singing. It was super hard for me, but it was worth it,” Rojas said. “It was fun.”
He also enjoyed going to Chicago and Door County with his parents when they visited him here.
Going to classes at WHS was different than his high school experience in Colombia.
Rojas went to a private school at home.
“We were in the same classroom all day with the same people,” he said.
Since he is already done with high school in Colombia, he will begin college on Jan. 20 at Los Andes in Bogota.
The school year in Colombia ends in mid November, Rojas explained, so the students are currently on break.
He expects to be in college for 4 1/2 years and plans to study civil engineering.
Rojas, who is an only child, said his father is a civil engineer, and his mother is the manager of an insurance company.
His experience as a Rotary exchange student helped him prepare for college.
“I think I’m more mature,” Rojas said. “I’m more open with people.”
He also believes his English improved.
Rojas made many friends in Waupaca.
On his last day of school here, his culinary arts classmates surprised him with a party that included brats.
He went to the girl’s basketball game that night, with many of his friends heading to the Ellingson’s home after the game for a final party.
“I met so many friends. I will Skype,” Rojas said. “I’m going to ask my parents if I can come for graduation or else to visit in the summer.”
He will miss his friends, the families he stayed with and the lakes.
Rojas said he appreciates the support of the Waupaca Rotary Club and how particulary helpful Rotarian Sandy Testin was.
“I want to thank the people for being so friendly with me,” he said. “My host families took me as one of their children.”