In July 2011, Monika Zaldua came to Cleveland from Barcelona, Spain, to spend a year as a Rotary Exchange Student. She had been hoping to be placed in Boston, where her mother had visited as a student, but was assigned to the Rotary Club of Cleveland and Cleveland High School. Her host parents for the year were Edwin and Karen Dale and Catherine Rice.
Before coming, Zaluda only knew that Elvis Presley was from Tennessee, but she grew to love the state and especially her Cleveland friends.
She was on Cleveland High School’s cross country team, took honors courses, studied diligently and danced with the Tennessee Youth Ballet during her sophomore year in Cleveland.
The year went by quickly, and she hated to depart so soon. Prior to her year in Cleveland, Zaluda had also studied at a boarding school in England, and this coming summer she plans to travel to Germany to study. Her goal for college is to go into the medical field.
Not only did Zaluda come to celebrate the graduation of her friends from Cleveland High School, but also to share one of the biggest birthdays — her 18th — with her friends in America.
She had her 16th birthday while in Cleveland, also. Her goal was to surprise the graduates, and she arrived as they were having class night at the high school. It would have been wonderful to announce her as a special surprise guest, but even though that request was not granted, the friends learned that she was present and were extremely excited to see her again.
Even though the graduation ceremony had to be moved indoors, Zaluda’s friends made sure that she had a ticket, and she was there to cheer on her fellow classmates as they received their diplomas. In Spain, tests are administered and the students move on to college, but there is no formal cap-and-gown ceremony for the students.
Zaluda was also able to spend time with a current CHS Rotary Exchange Student, Miriam “Mimi” Figueroa, of Madrid, whose host parents are Coleman and Amy Foss. The Cleveland family and friends wanted to “return” the surprise, so a party was planned at The Spot restaurant in downtown Cleveland. Zaluda always loved the Cleveland MainStreet Cruise-ins and restaurants with vintage American collectables on the walls. Twenty-one friends and three host families gathered in the back room to surprise the Spaniard on her final night in America, May 13, which was also her 18th birthday.
Cleveland left a lasting positive impression on the young woman’s life. She hopes to return to Cleveland again and has also invited many friends to visit her home in Barcelona. Her host brother, Benjamin Dale, learned about the Rotary Exchange program during her initial stay, and has spent his junior year of high school in Taipei, Taiwan, attending Zhong Zheng High School and also studying Mandarin Chinese at the university.
The Rotary Club of Cleveland will, in turn, host a student from Taipei in the coming year. He will also attend Cleveland High School, and will hopefully have a wonderful experience, just as Monika Zaluda did in 2011-12.