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.
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.