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San Marcos celebrates Rotary Youth Exchange Program

Above, Elisabeth Aarstad with Susan and Larry Hanson. Photo submitted by Rotary Club of San Marcos

San Marcos celebrates Rotary Youth Exchange Program

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Shannon Fitzpatrick traveled to Austria from San Marcos as a Rotary Youth Exchange student in 1978, She shares her experience at the Rotary meeting on Aug. 18. San Marcos Rotary is 100 years old this year and plans to celebrate different programs supported by Rotary. One is the youth exchange, which brings young people from other countries to San Marcos, and sponsors San Marcos youth to go abroad.

Fitzpatrick says her first host family in Austria lived in a castle near what was then the Yugoslavian border. Then she moved to Vienna, and finally to Salzburg, where she attended a ceramics school but lived in a hotel that doubled as both a spa and a slaughterhouse for pigs. She swears that is true.

Fitzpatrick is a sixth generation San Marcan. She has bachelor and master’s degrees in education and law degree. She and her husband, Ron Bowden, lived for a time in Houston became an appellate lawyer for the state, then an Assistant DA in Hays County and finally the director of the Office of the Attorney for Students at Texas State, from which she retired in 2019.

The same year that Shannon Fitzpatrick was in Austria, 17-year-old Elisabeth Bjerke Aarstad, from Norway, came to San Marcos. She says the Texas drawl was a challenge at first because it was different from the English she heard in Norway. She adds, however, that her host families and the Rotary community in San Marcos took good care of her, and she learned from the experience to be respectful of all sorts of people, lifestyles, and opinions.

She lived for seven months with Susan and Larry Hanson in San Marcos. The Hansons visited Aarstad and her family in Norway in 2016, traveling to various parts of Norway. Today, Aarstad is a CPA and consultant at an accounting firm.

Since 1929, Rotary International has sent young people around the globe to experience new cultures. Before Covid, Rotary clubs sponsored 9,000 students every year. Students go to another country usually living for a year with multiple host families. Students perform daily tasks within host families as well as attend school in the host country. The cost is low because volunteers host students and do most of the administrative work.

San Marcos Rotary has sent students abroad to Denmark, England, Ecuador, France, Chile, Austria and others. Inbound students have come from Norway, Germany, France, Chile, Italy, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa and Spain. One of the most recent exchange students sponsored by the club was Elise Perisseau from Paris, France. She came for the 2017-2018 school year, and is now completing a law degree at the University of Paris. A San Marcos Rotary tradition is to buy exchange students a cowboy hat of their choosing, which Perisseau models in the photo.

The Youth Exchange program for 2022-2023 is accepting applications until Sept. 15. More information about Rotary Youth Exchange programs is available at Interested students can contact San Marcos Rotary at

Rotary is a nonprofit, nonreligious, and nonpolitical service organization. It meets every Wednesday at noon at the Holiday Inn Convention Center, 105 Bintu Drive, San Marcos. Visitors are welcome.

Submitted by Rotary Club of San Marcos

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666