IT is no coincidence that 18-year-old Finnish exchange student Ella Kivisaari is living in Newcastle 30 years after her father did.
She grew up in her home town of Helsinki listening to stories of beautiful beaches, laid-back Novocastrians and student life at Kotara High School.
"It's been a dream of mine to come here since I was about eight years old," she said.
"My father was an exchange student in Newcastle 30 years ago and he always said it was the best year of his life."
Now Ella is following in his footsteps through the Rotary International Youth Exchange program.
Ella will spend a whole year in Newcastle, and is likely to live with four host families.
She has already spent six months at Hunter Sports High School and will spend another six months at the Hunter School of Performing Arts.
Ella said she has embraced Australia, immersing herself in Australian culture.
"I've even been trying to learn how to surf while I'm here - it's quite addictive," she said.
Every year Rotary District 9670, which includes Newcastle and goes as far west as Bourke, sends about 20 students to different countries across the globe as youth ambassadors.
Rotary District 9670 secretary Denise Parkes said the hunt for the next crop of local students, who will leave in January next year, was on.
"We are looking for students who are inquisitive of other cultures, are aware of cultural differences and can spend a year away from home," she said.
District 9670 has links with about 17 countries, including Belgium, France, Spain, Brazil, and the US.
■ Rotary will hold a session for interested students aged 15 to 18 at Club Macquarie, Argenton on Wednesday, March 6. Go to rotaryyouthexchange.org.au for more information.