I fully expect that Brianna Counts, 17, will one day be a U.S. ambassador to other countries around the world, spreading good will and offering friendship.

She may be some sort of translator, loving languages the way she does. Or perhaps she will be a diplomat or mediator, helping to bring two warring sides together to make peace.

When I met the Fairfield teen on Wednesday, she summed up the travails of the world and offered a solution in just a few words:

“Everyone could use a little bit more peace, and if you can do your part, I mean, why wouldn’t you?” she said.

I interviewed Brianna in her grandparents’ home in Winslow just two days before she was to fly to Taiwan to live with a family there for a year as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange program.

She was a bit nervous, but very excited.

“I’ve always wanted to study abroad,” she said. “Last November I watched a YouTube video of a girl who went to Japan. She did it through her local Rotary. She made several YouTube videos and I watched them all in one night. I was like, I want to get in on that.”

Brianna’s mother, Lisa Bolduc, helped her connect with Rotary, and she applied for the exchange program. A slot for an exchange with Japan was filled, but Taiwan was open. Brianna jumped at the chance to go there and live with a family in one of Taiwan’s largest cities, Taichung, and learn Mandarin. Her sponsor is the Waterville Sunrise Rotary Club.

The family she will stay with in Taiwan is large. The parents, children, grandparents, aunt, uncle and their children all live in one home.

“The father is a businessman, and he has a wife and two kids. They just sent their daughter to Denmark for a Rotary exchange,” Brianna said. “I will be attending a high school and doing senior year in Taichung.”

Brianna already has graduated from high school, so the senior year in Taiwan will be just for experience.

She finished her junior and senior years at Lawrence High School in Fairfield in one year by taking extra courses for credit during study halls and enrolling in advanced placement history and literature courses, as well as taking an online personal finance economics class.

She basically worked her tail off and reaped the benefits by graduating this year.

You might say she caught the travel bug from her family.

Her grandparents traveled a lot, and she listened to their stories. When she was 13, she accompanied her grandmother to the Dominican Republic where they visited children her grandparents sponsor by sending money for their clothing, food and medical attention.

“It was just a very different way of living there,” Brianna said. “Seeing some of the poor neighborhoods made me realize how very fortunate I am. But I would like to go back.”

She also learned compassion from her family — and being charitable to those less fortunate.

“My mother and I volunteer at the soup kitchen and the Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, packaging Christmas gifts. And we do the Central Maine Family Christmas Dinner every year at the Waterville Elks Club. Mom got me involved. She told me, ‘I’m going to do these things’ and invited me along. It’s not hard to do nice things. It doesn’t take much of my time, it doesn’t take much energy. It’s just being nice to people — trying to give back, I suppose.”

During her freshman and sophomore years of high school, Brianna took German and this past April traveled to Germany on another exchange program. She stayed with a family in Strasburg, traveled around a bit and got to use her German speaking skills.

She also had taken French while a student at St. John Regional Catholic School in Winslow in her early years and later visited Quebec. During her junior year at Lawrence, she took Spanish.

“That is my favorite by far,” she said. “I love Spanish.”

After returning to the U.S. from Taiwan next year, Brianna hopes to enroll in college and study Spanish or other languages, she said. She is applying to colleges now, and after graduation she wants to get a job that will allow her to use language for some worthwhile purpose.

“I want something where I can travel. I’d maybe like to be a translator or something that requires a language to be able to have the job.”

When you read this, Brianna will be in Taiwan. Before she left, I asked her what advice she would give to other young people who might want to follow a similar path.

“Get involved,” she said. “Travel, and try to be as worldly and cultured as possible. The goal of the Rotary Youth Exchange is definitely to spread peace and develop bonds with people of other countries and cultures.”

Sounds like pretty good advice to me, Brianna.

And by the way, I feel a lot better, knowing people like you will soon be running our world.

Adios, bon voyage, auf wiedersehen — and Godspeed.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]


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