Thursday, May 03, 2012

The Youth Exchange Club

Because of various connections, I've gotten the chance to interact and share my knowledge with several students who are planning trips to Russia. It's something I very much enjoy. It's kind of funny though because I was thinking about how, as a Rotary Youth Exchange student it's like you're part of this exclusive club.

Like being a Freemason or something.

I mean we have our secret greetings we use:
Person 1: "Yeah, I was a Rotary exchange student."
Person 2: "Really!? Me too! 6650 to 5010, Russia 07-08"

The District you came from, the district you went to, the country and years.

We even have our own little signs and symbols in the form of the pins we collect for our jackets.

I guess I never fully appreciated what Rotary has created with their exchange program. The goal is to make people more aware of the global community. This is accomplished when you spend ten months living with a new family, in a new country with a new language. Yet it's so much more than that.

I will never forget a trip I took to the chiropractor last summer. After getting my adjustment I found myself in a massage chair next to a woman slightly younger than my mother. Before us was a TV showing scenes from France. The woman and I struck up a conversation about travel and I mentioned that I was getting ready to move to Russia. She thought that was interesting and then mentioned she had been an exchange student with Rotary to Brazil in the 70s. Just like that we had a connection.

So how do I express it in words? It's about culture. Of course it is, but in creating this program Rotary has, in fact, created a global community. A global community of shared experiences. I can travel anywhere, do anything, meet people and as soon as the words "I was an exchange student with Rotary" cross their lips, no matter the language, an understanding passes between you. An understanding that says "I've been there too, I understand." An understanding that transcends not only cultures, but transcends generations, economic situation, profession, religion, race or family background. An understanding born of shared experiences.

And only now, four years after my exchange, have I fully come to appreciate and realize this. I am proud and honored to be a part of it. Thank you, Rotary!

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