By Greg Batz, a member of the Rotary Club of White Bear Lake
Twelve years ago, I was invited by a fellow Rotarian from a neighboring Rotary club to chauffer a delegation of Russian judges to the federal court house in Minneapolis for a tour and meetings on a Friday morning. Little did I know how that simple offer to help that day would change my life.
These five judges had been nominated and selected to participate in the Open World Leadership Program and were just finishing their 10 day visit to the United States. The experience I had that day was the beginning of an opportunity to travel to Russia four times and experience a country that most Americans only read about in the news or see on TV.
My wife and I have dozens of wonderful Russian friends from Moscow and St. Petersburg, to Ufa, Stavropol, and Krasnoyarsk. We have experienced Siberian banya’s (saunas), spelunking, broken bread, shot vodka, and eaten caviar with these friends. We’ve been invited guests to a wedding, hiked in the Siberian wilderness, and stood in Red Square more times than we want – how many times do you need to see the same famous site before you find it boring?
We have been guests in their homes, and hosted many of them on return trips to Minnesota after their Open World experiences. We have skied in the Colorado Rockies with one another, and plan to meet and ski in the Alps next March. And this all started with a simple “I’d be happy to help” offer that Friday morning.
The White Bear Lake Rotary Club has hosted seven Open World delegations over the past decade, and will be hosting our next delegation this fall. We have hosted delegations of judges, medical professionals, educators, and once hosted a group of outstanding young ladies, who came with an Open World delegation titled “Women as Leaders.” Our club members always look forward to hosting and entertaining our Russian guests. A number of our members have traveled with me to Russia to share the experience. This has not only been a valued program for the Russians, but a rewarding and invaluable experience for the Americans as well.
With our ongoing commitment to participate with the Open World program we have created relationships between the University of Minnesota and universities in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. Professors from these institutions are collaborating and sharing best practices to benefit children with special needs. We have had middle school age kids in White Bear Lake work on art projects with kids in schools in Russia, and enjoyed the experience of talking with each other via Skype. I have seen evidence of the best practices that our Russian friends have incorporated into their school programs that were learned here in Minnesota as I’ve toured schools there.
As Rotarians we aspire to “do good in the world.” The Open World Program is a wonderful opportunity for Rotary clubs to do great things in the world.