Hungry for Hungary: Local student prepares for foreign exchange program

Savannah Vasquez
LaRae Harris will be participating in a foreign exchange program for her senior year of high school with the Rotary Youth Exchange Florida.

Unlike most high school students that relax during the summer or take on a fun summer job, LaRae Harris has been busy brushing up on her Hungarian. The rising Niceville senior, who was born and raised in Destin, will soon be traveling to Sopron, Hungary for a foreign exchange program through the Rotary Youth Exchange Florida.

“I found out about it through internet researching,” said Harris. “I was looking for an inexpensive exchange program and found it through Rotary International. I want to eventually go into foreign services and work in an embassy, so I thought it would be a good first step.”

Harris said the local Destin Rotary Club was surprised to hear about the program, but was eager to jump on board to support her studious efforts.

“They were really excited because they had never heard about it,” said Harris. “I’m the first exchange student to come from this area in a long time for the Rotary.”

Destin Rotary President Jeanie Dailey said the club has awarded Harris with a $500 scholarship to help with traveling expenses.

“We are so excited to be able to support her,” said Dailey. “She is so deserving and such an accomplished young woman already. We are excited to live vicariously through her as she goes through her adventures in Hungary.”

With some background study in Russian and six-months of informal study in the Hungarian language, Harris said she thinks she is up for the challenge of a 10-month immersion into Hungarian culture.

“I can speak a little bit,” said Harris. “It’s different, but I like a challenge. I wanted to learn a bit before I got there so I could at least greet people and order a coffee.”

Harris told The Log she has been practicing Hungarian online through an internet social network called, which pairs up language learners with native speakers across the globe.

“There are a surprising amount of Hungarians on there wanting to learn English, and not a lot of people wanting to learn Hungarian so I got a lot of messages,” said Harris. “They have one of the hardest languages after Chinese; it’s a Uralic language dissimilar from any other language.”

When it came to choosing the country of study, Harris said she knew she wanted Hungary, but was told to pick eight choices and wait for the Rotary board to assign her one.

“It was in my top eight with Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Czech Republic, Poland, Croatia and Germany,” said Harris. “Hungary was my favorite; that’s what I wanted because not a lot of people know about it.”

When asked what she is most looking forward too, Harris had a ready reply; “The food,” she said. “Hungarian food is very, very good; it’s a lot of paprika, beef and sour cream. They do a lot of stews and soups and it takes hours to cook it; it’s a lot of work.”

 Now, with less than a month before she leaves for the trip, Harris said she is more excited than nervous.

“It’s kind of a big leap; This will be my first time going overseas, so I’m a little nervous about the transatlantic flight,” she said. “But I’m flying into Vienna so I’m very excited; My first sight will be Vienna early in the morning.”

Harris will be staying with a Hungarian host family while studying and will be posting regularly on a blog on the Rotary website. To find out more about the program, or to follow Harris’s trip visit