By Emma Naas, a former Rotary Youth Exchange Student from Sweden
In the summer of 1991, 377 Rotary Youth Exchange students boarded eight buses and journeyed around the American continent for five weeks. Those weeks were for all of us unforgettable, and a fantastic end to our exchange year. The time we spent on those buses was so special, it created an unforgettable bond between us and a wonderful memory. We never thought we would ever meet again. But we were wrong.
Five years ago, we started a closed Facebook group with about 30 members. We helped each other track down and find as many members of that tour as possible. Today we are 278 strong.
On 21 July through 24 July, about 100 members of the 1991 tour met again for the first time in 25 years. The reunion was held in Spain with former exchange students flying in from 24 different countries as far away as Australia, the Philippines, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, USA, and Japan, to join many from the European countries.
During those four days we realized that the trust we based our friendship on 25 years ago is still there. We help each other in big and small ways. We network. We won a European Language award. And during the reunion we all signed a letter addressing the governments in each of our countries asking them to support exchange programs.
This is just the beginning of what we can accomplish together. Rotary joined us together 25 years ago, and we are still here, celebrating a year that forever changed us. We stand for trust and friendship across borders, across differences cultures, languages, and religions. We are the world, just a smaller and more peaceful one.
We say Thank You Rotary. We are eager to tell our story so Rotary knows, and the world knows, the power of Rotary Youth Exchange.
If you’d like one of us to speak to your club, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about exchange opportunities through Rotary
My father, Dr. John E. Stefanick, from the Sharon, Pennsylvania Rotary Club District 728 was responsible for the first Rotary Youth Exchange Student Bus Tour in 1968. He worked very hard to get Rotary Tour started and was the driving force behind each and every tour up until about 2-3 years prior to his death in 2002. He would have been the one who arranged your 1991 Tour and he would have LOVED to hear of this amazing reunion that you all made happen. He loved Rotary and he loved the Exchange Student program for which he was also instrumental in making happen. This is so beautiful and it is a blessing to know that so many of you have maintained connection and a relationship with one another. God bless each and every one of you. Gale Stefanick Sisul
I took part of the 1986 Essex Tour – my brothers did in 1974, 75 and 89 – and I am very greatful to your father Jack Stefanick because those 32 days were just amazing. Outstanding organization, dedication and care for 300 exchange students from all over the world. At that time I was in New Mexico, hosted by Silver City Rotary Club. YEP changes lives and it certainly changed mine.
Guess what: I joined Rotary Club BH Leste yesterday. Yes, you must very proud of what your beloved father accomplished and this legacy that so many has testified.
I feel so happy when I see others group getting together no matter what. I was in the ESSEX Rotary Tour of USA1992. It was amazing. And after that I have friends everywhere. Every year we have mini reunions all aroung the world, when some of us go to another country and get together or stays in someone’s home. We have no boundaries, we care about each other.
We had already done two meetings. Our 10th years meeting was in Orlando FL. And Our 20 was really our 21th year reunion was in Barcelona, Spain. The feeling when we get together is like time has never pass by.
But also our kids are growing up understanding that love is above everything. And that it’s what makes our friendship strong.
I was amazingly lucky to be part of this incredible adventure both times: during the Essex Tour 1991 and in July in Benicassim.
The general feeling of togetherness, of being a family, even after 25 years without seeing each other, of rightness, made us all certain that anything is possible if you put your mind and your energy to it.
No judgment was ever passed on what we’ve become, on where we came from, on politics or religion. It was just happiness and goodwill all around, and a great consciousness that we can make the world a better place, everyday.
Now my daughter is applying for the Rotary Younth exchange program for September 2017, and an exchangee from Australia will arrive in a few days to spend 4 months in our family…
I want to thank you for making this possible, and for giving me both times magical opportunities to believe that the world can be beautiful, and to learn about others.
Through exchange programs, you most certainly achieved your purposes: it IS the truth, it IS fair to all concerned, it WILL build goodwill and better friendships and yes, it IS beneficial to all concerned.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
The trip in 91 and the reunion last July were able to show the world that friendship between people coming from different countries is the beginning of a peaceful world!
The energy, love and mutual understanding in this group is one of a kind. It left a permanent Golden spot in my heart 25 years ago and has given me life long friendships across boarders. The renaissance of this group has not only been a fantastic trip down memory lane, but has also helped me through hard times. On top of it all, I found the love of my life in this group and we are now true examples that boarders don’t matter. My Rotary Exchange year has not only opened doors, but has been and continues to be one of the most significant experiences of my life.
Great story! Thanks for sharing. As the son of Rotarian (and now a Rotarian myself) who was very involved in YEP and Essex, I got to meet many Exchange students. I have heard many of the stories about this trip. It really was a great trip and great bonding experience. It is unfortunate that Essex have to stop these trips. I think the program is a little weaker for it.
I would, however, encourage all Rotarians to think about this story. Think about all the lives that have been touched, the strong bonds we have helped create. It is hard to vilify other countries and cultures when you *know* they are people just like you. Having these personal connects makes the world a better, kinder, more peaceful place. My experience has been that Rotarians often take the YEP for granted; that it is just something that we do. When we hear stories like this one, we are reminded just how extraordinary it truly is. It makes me proud to be a Rotarian and feel that I have, indeed, helped to make the world a better place.
Thank you for your wonderful reply to my post ! I got a little teary eyed!
I also shared it with the others in the tour group !
Feel proud ! Rotary made this possible !
Reblogged this on shanakyar.
I was part of this wonderful experience and, by now, I have learned to appreciate it more than ever. With the world divided by frontiers, races and religions, a group as ours really gives hope to everyone, because we are just people who care and love each other no matter what.
The close community we share, even though we seldom meet, is so unique and rare, and we treasure it imensely. We have a bond that is now unbreakable and we will find ways to make the most of it. We are lucky and truly blessed.
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Great group, great experience. Rotary have done a great job with this program. It changed our lives for good and forever.
After that magic trip in 1991,I dreamed to meet those people again so I took the opportunity and traveled around to visit some of them during the nineties. After a 1/4 century (Essex-Tour ’91 were only memories somewhere in my brain), we received an opportunity to meet each other again and I wasn’t sure if I should go. But I took the decision to go and it was all worth it. All the energy of 1991 had become true global friendship in 2016.
I truly hope that I can pass this message as a Rotarian and would love to see every Rotary club world wide to take part of this fantastic program.
Rty Antwerpen-Schelde (Belgium)
I was lucky to be a part of this and it really was an amazing experience…
This was a wonderful reunion. I joined it as a representative of Ukraine at the end of July. These types of programs are very helpful to foster world peace and understanding, so needed now.
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