When I give to Rotary, I get so much more back


Stephanie Witkowski, middle in blue shirt, during her Rotary Youth Exchange in Slovakia. 

By Stephanie Witkowski, Rotary Club of Honolulu Pau Hana

At 28 years old, I decided to become a Rotarian, because Rotary changed my life.

I grew up in a small town in Oregon, USA, and was a young leader in my school. When I was 15 years old, I applied to attend a Rotary Youth Leadership Awards event in Rotary’s District 5110 to learn more about myself and what leadership meant to me. During that amazing week-long experience, I learned not only about how to be a better leader for my school and community, but about Rotary itself. 

One of the things I learned about Rotary was the organization’s commitment to international service through the Rotary Youth Exchange program. I had always dreamed of learning about another culture through an international experience with students my age. So when I was 17 years old, I applied to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student. In District 5110, they have a wonderful tradition of selecting the student’s host country for them, and then SURPRISE! In 2005, I was off for a life-changing year in Slovakia.

Most students who have the incredible opportunity to study abroad speak of the experience as a pivotal moment in their life. That was certainly the case for me. While living with a host family, and studying at the local high school, I learned so much more about what it meant to be a global citizen and what my goals for my life were.


Witkowski during her induction into the Rotary Club of Honolulu Pau Hana.

During this year, I began to appreciate different cultures and languages and what they offer to our world as a whole. This path over time led to a BA in cross-cultural communication, a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Slovakia at age 23, followed by three years of graduate study in linguistics. My Rotary Youth Exchange experience set me on a path toward my current career (as a revitalization linguist for a Native American Tribe.)

During my educational and professional pursuits, I always kept my connection to Rotary. In summers during college, I served as a RYLA camp counselor. I wanted to give back to the next generation of young leaders and inspire them. But the truth is, I always came away as inspired by the youth and their commitment to Service Above Self.

Finally, this May, I joined Rotary to once again give back to an organization that gave so much to me. But again, I find that when I give to Rotary, I end up receiving so much more.

Stephanie is one of 13,594 people who used Rotary’s Member Center in 2015-16 to express their interest in Rotary. Tell us why you’re interested in Rotary and we’ll help you get connected.

4 thoughts on “When I give to Rotary, I get so much more back

  1. Pingback: When I give to Rotary, I get so much more back | The Rotary Club of Carteret

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