By Ally Vincent
Although I am just 23, I already have nine years’ experience with Rotary. I joined the Interact Club at Crystal River High School in Florida when I was 14. When I began pursuing an undergraduate degree at Saint Leo University, I felt a bit lost, and I missed the connection I had to Rotary. So I became involved in chartering a Rotaract Club on campus, eventually becoming club president in 2013-14. I saw Rotary’s good work both on a local and international scale through projects we worked on with the Rotary Club of Belize Sunrise, in Belize, and the Rotaract Club of Islamabad Green City, in Punjab, Pakistan.
Less than a month after I graduated from Saint Leo University, I received an email saying that I had been awarded a global grant funded Rotary scholarship to pursue my master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in inclusive and special education. I had worked closely with the Rotary Club of San Antonio, in Florida, during my year as president of my Rotaract Club, and — as the members were experienced with the paperwork — the club became my main sponsor, with nine other clubs in Florida helping. The Rotary Club of Portobello, Lothian, Scotland, and District 1020 served as my hosts.
From the start, the experience was both daunting and thrilling. It was daunting because it was my first experience with Rotary members outside Florida. But it was thrilling because it was a whole new start and my first time ever in the United Kingdom.
From the moment I arrived in Edinburgh, Rotarians made me feel at home. My host counselor, Stuart, walked me around town and showed me the university and shops. He took me for a pint at a pub, in true Scottish fashion. Some club members described Stuart and me as “two peas in a pod.” He was someone with whom I could joke or have a serious conversation. He was there to offer advice and guidance if I was upset about something at the university, and he helped me see Scottish culture in a way that I otherwise would not have experienced it.
The entire Rotary Club of Portobello and, indeed, Rotary members from throughout District 1020 helped me survive my year in Scotland. The Portobello club welcomed me to its weekly meetings and other events, ensuring that I had a ride. I looked forward to seeing the members each week, as it was a welcome break from my studies. Some club members would even invite me over for dinner or take me on a day trip.
When I faced roadblocks in my research, Rotary members from throughout the district were there to help. They would meet me at the train station, drive me to the school, wait for me to finish my work, my business, take me out for coffee, then return me to the station. They helped me complete my research when the university was less than helpful.
Now that I’ve completed my scholarship, I know I have forever friends in Scotland. My passion for Rotary grows every day. It warms my heart knowing there are still so many helpful souls in this world. Thanks, Rotary International, Rotary Club of Portobello, District 1020, District 6950, and the Rotary Club of San Antonio for your support and encouragement. I don’t know where I would be without you all.
My journey with Rotary is not over. I continue to visit clubs in my district to share my experiences, and will speak at our district conference. And once I have an established career, I am sure I will find a Rotary club to join.