Holding a baby alligator was just one of the unique experiences of Celina Guadagni.

Heart of our city: Celina Guadagni goes off the beaten path for exchange

A lot of young exchange students may have dreams of touching the storied Colosseum in Rome or taking a selfie beside Big Ben.

A lot of young exchange students may have dreams of touching the storied Colosseum in Rome or taking a selfie beside Big Ben in England.

But not Celina Guadagni.

“Most people go to Europe for their exchange. It’s easier, almost [to go there],” said the 19-year-old Charles Hays graduate.

“Lisa (Thomas, a Prince Rupert Rotarian) had an exchange student from Brazil here two years ago … and I felt like going somewhere different and I made Brazil my number one choice [after meeting her],” she said last week.

Guadagni got what she wished for, and in June of 2012, the Grade 12 student was whisked away to the land of soccer and perennial festivals, all made possible through the Rotary Club of Prince Rupert and her outstanding leadership qualities which have made her a junior leader at several RYLAs (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards).

Rotary International, a place with driven, motivated, enthusiastic and like-minded leaders, naturally attracted the Rupertite, who thought the energy within the organization was contagious.

“I heard all about their volunteer work. I heard about their exchange program and I thought ‘Wow, this is an amazing organization, I’d love to be a part of it’. The atmosphere was really positive and exciting and everyone was really motivated and I felt like I belonged there,” she said.

Not a day has gone by where Brazil hasn’t penetrated her stream of thoughts since getting back over a year ago, she explained, and for good reason.

While on her travels, Guadagni lived with two different host families, the first of which kicked off her journeys with a heartfelt sentiment.

“When I first got there, they had a collage of photos of me and my friends and family and right away, I knew ‘Wow, this is going to be a great family’,” she said.

At first, it was tough adjusting to the language barrier facing Guadagni, since she had high hopes of learning some Portuguese before she left on her trip but those plans never materialized.

“I didn’t speak any Portuguese when I left. I was like ‘Oh, I’m going to learn’, but I never did. I was lazy and procrastinated,” she explained.

“A few people spoke English [to me] at first which was really helpful because I was clueless and did a lot of smiling and nodding, but after awhile, I was like ‘OK I need to learn or else I’m not going to communicate with people’ … so I just listened to people’s conversations and after awhile, like four or five months I started speaking it even if it was mangled or wrong,” Guadagni added.

The Rupertite found herself far from home when she and 50 other exchange students went on a 10-day trip to the Amazon rainforest.

“We were on boats, sleeping in hammocks … I got to hold a crocodile, it was incredible. And with 50 other students from all over the world, you can imagine I met some awesome people.”

And while Guadagni always knew tourism was in her future, she never dreamed she would spend an entire year abroad so soon, let alone in her Grade 12 year where afterwards, in 2013-14, she returned to play volleyball and basketball for the Charles Hays Rainmakers.

She won zones versus Smithers earlier this year.

“I had to redo my Grade 12 [in Canada] … I was playing with girls I didn’t really know because they were a year younger than me but it was awesome to play with them and I met some really good friends.”

Guadagni, who played guard on the team, had a terrific outing at a game in Prince George, scoring 45 points according to one local newspaper. Not one to normally keep track of her stats, she thought it a bit far-fetched but she’ll take it.

“I was like, ‘Whoa. I didn’t realize that’. I don’t know how they got those stats but I’ll go with it,” Guadagni said.

The Rupertite will now head south to Vancouver Island University (VIU) where she’ll study sports and recreation management for a two-year diploma, with an option to complete another two years for a four-year bachelor’s degree in tourism. The school also invited the athlete to play basketball for the varsity team on campus, aptly named the Mariners.

“I’ve never been to Nanaimo but I’ve been to Victoria and I’ve always liked the island there. It just feels kind of close to home. It looks like a really awesome campus and the program seemed really hands-on,” she said.

“I’ve heard really good things.”

As for her career, Guadagni figures it will involve youth and sport in some way, so she can give back to the community and help others have the same experience she did.

“I’d love to open my own business and run my own kids’ camp or something to do with sports or even possibly coaching on the side, personal training, something along those lines. I love sports and I love kids. I think I’d want to come back [to Prince Rupert] and do something,” she mentioned.

Guadagni would like to thank everyone involved in the youth exchange process for helping her reach South America and accomplish everything she’s set out to achieve before she’s even stepped foot in a post-secondary institution.

“I’m really thankful to my friends and my family and especially the city of Prince Rupert because I graduated and got a few bursaries that have really helped me sponsoring me for my exchange. I’m really grateful to have them and be born and raised here.

“I’m really proud to be from Prince Rupert.”