How Rotary Youth Exchange shaped my life

Ivan Vianna

By Ivan Vianna, District 4760 Rotary Youth Exchange chairman emeritus and a member of the Rotary Club of Belo Horizonte-Pampulha, Brazil

My Rotary Youth Exchange provided me with the main ingredients I needed to be successful in my profession as an engineer. More important, the experience shaped my character and helped make me the person I am.

In January 1968, I began my exchange year in Montrose, Pennsylvania, USA. I knew enough English to communicate, but adjusting from the 98 degrees Fahrenheit days in Brazil to 12 degrees during a Pennsylvania winter was rough! Much was different – school, food, the culture. But the love shown by my host families – first the Oleniaczes, then Elys, and Schooleys – helped me adjust. Rotarians made so sure I participated in club activities that I thought I was a Rotarian!

Vianna, as a Rotary Youth Exchange student, visits Washington D.C. in 1968.

The year was an eventful one in the United States – the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the presidential election. I felt like a witness to history. I shook hands with George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. And attended a concert by a little known guitar player by the name of Jimmy Hendrix.

During the whole period, I made only one call to Brazil, because it was too expensive and difficult.

When I left for home, it was hardly the end of my youth exchange experience. As time went on, I realized how much I benefited from the skills I had learned: the ability to adapt to new cultures, the language and communication skills, the maturity I gained, and the ability to respect differences and be broad-minded. I had become a multi-cultural person.

The exchange impacted me in another very personal way. When Pat Ely, the son of one of my host families, came to Brazil, I met the daughter of his host family, Virginia Rocha, who later became my wife. Virginia and I have two children and four grandchildren. And Bonno, our dog.

My son Gustavo, also an engineer, took part in a Rotary Youth Exchange to Montrose, hosted by the Oleniacz family that had hosted me.

I joined Rotary in 1992, have served on district committees, on the Rotary International Youth Exchange Committee, and have taken part in 20 RI Conventions, 18 of them as a speaker and/or moderator for Youth Exchange.

In my travels, I have met many people through networking and making friends. I love these activities, and it all goes back to my youth exchange. It has helped make me who I am.

What is your Rotary Youth Exchange story? Share it with us at

25 thoughts on “How Rotary Youth Exchange shaped my life

  1. Pingback: Group Study Exchange made me the Rotarian I am | Warsaw Rotary , Club 3393, District 6540

  2. Pingback: Group Study Exchange made me the Rotarian I am | Rotary Voices

  3. Greetings Ivan,
    I was an exchange student in Belo Horizonte, Brasil 1993 – 1994 from Morris NY. I don’t know if you’d remember me. I was the one who was skipping school to volunteer at Casa Dandara, another wonderful organization helping children from the streets. You may have been the one to call my parents on me. LOL. I am so glad to see you are still doing great things. I thank you and District 4760 for placing me with some of the best host families in the world. I will never forget. Obrigada.
    Tanya Barton
    District 7170


    • Dear Tanya,

      how could we ever forget you! You were one of the outstanding students we ever host and your volunteer work with those children – which gave me some grey hair – was excelent! Please keep in touch, let us know how you are doing nowadays! My email is
      Best wishes, Ivan

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dear Ivan,
    Thank for sharing with us your fantastic experience as Rotary Youth Exchange. It’s priceless the benefits that the youth exchange bring to the youth all over the world. Congratulation for the wonderful work you have been doing to the Rotary Youth Exchange Program !!


    • Gracias, Gladys, tenho acompanhado pela internet sua dedicada tarefa em servir como Governadora de seu Distrito. O nosso Distrito 4760 também tem uma Governadora este ano! Espero te encontrar ou aqui ou aí, quem sabe?


  5. Great story Ivan!

    I have to thank you immensely since you and your son Gustavo were the ones who inspired me to also become a Rotary Exchange Student. My stay in Pennsylvania (1994) was such a wonderful experience that is extremely hard to say in words all I gained from it.

    I can definitely say that Rotary and its YEP changed my life, mind and heart forever. I believe there is no better way to make the world a better/peaceful place, than to give people the opportunity to learn about other cultures by living and experiencing their way of life.

    Thank you very much and congratulations for being such an asset for Rotary International!



  6. Ivan:

    One of my greatest pleasures has been the opportunity to work with you on our district’s exchange with yours. You knew so much about the program and the experience our kids in Brazil and your kids here in the U.S. were having. I could consult you on anything and you always had the answers and information I needed. It was such a great relationship and culminated when I traveled to Brazil as a Group Study Leader and you brought our outbound to Belo Horizonte with you when you came to visit me in Siete Lagoas, MG. I was sad to see you step down but my life was enriched by your presence in it. Thank you for sharing your story. You are an inspiration.

    Best wishes my friend. I hope to see you again sometime, somewhere.



    • Thanks, Guy, you are one of our District best partner in RYEP. We had a great time visiting you in Lake Tahoe and surroundings, thanks to you!


  7. Ivan
    Known you for a few years now and really admire your dedication to Rotary and Rotary YE. Keep up the great work you are doing.


  8. Dear Ivan If you remeber me – Faina Barsegian from Vladivostok Russia. In 1998-2003 I was an admistrative assistant for the YEP D 5010 Russian portion That time we started the first exchanges with Brazil It was fun time


    • Thanks, Faina, I do remember well! Exchange with D 5010 has always been good and Russians YE students were great ambassadors. Spaciba bolshoi,


  9. Pingback: What is Exchange ? | 5550opinions

  10. Ivan ~ Very nice of you to post this. My son, Steve, spent a year in Brazil and met the most wonderful people in the world. We have met a lot of his friends, with them coming here, to the USA. I can not wait to have the funding to go to Brazil and meet his other families! I thank you again, this brought a smile to my face! (Stephen’s family friends’ in Brazil shared this post with us via facebook)


  11. Congratulations Ivan. Your story motivated me to write mine, which is very similar to yours.
    I was a Rotary Youth Exchange at the same time in New York State.
    Now I´m District Chairman in District 4690 Bolivia.


  12. Pingback: Nuevo mensaje de “Voces de Rotary”… « Rotary Club de Lleida

  13. Pingback: How Rotary Youth Exchange shaped my life | Warsaw Rotary , Club 3393, District 6540

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