By Gabriel de Jesus Abade, former Rotary Youth Exchange Student
When I was 16, like most teenagers, I was focused on my own life. I hadn’t really thought about joining a service club or dedicating myself to helping others. But that changed when a high school friend began talking to me about Rotary, and its local and global actions. I was captivated and wanted to learn more. So I took my first steps in Rotary as a member of the Interact Club of Lauro de Freitas. Through the club, I was able to contribute in small ways to changing my community for the better.
It was also there that I first came into contact with the Rotary Youth Exchange program through exchange students who lived in my district. It aroused something inside of me, and I felt an urge to also go away and experience something new. I took part in a youth exchange to Freeport, Bahamas, in District 6990 and it changed my life in so many ways I can’t explain. It is still shaping many of my current decisions. A lot of what I do today is related to the change I went through nine years ago. The exchange opened my eyes to a world bigger than my own neighborhood, city, state, and country. And there was no turning back.
I returned to Brazil with a sense of duty. Rotary impacted my life and I felt I needed to “pay it back” somehow. My mom felt the same way. She even became a Rotarian. I became a member of the Rotex in my district, a group of youth exchange alumni who assist new inbound and outbound students during their exchange, from 2010-15. We hosted five exchange students and received countless others for shorter stays. During carnival, which is a huge event in my hometown of Salvador, exchange students staying in other cities in Brazil would come to our home to experience carnival with Rotary supervisors.
My sense of needing to give back also prompted me to become a Rotaract member. The club, Salvator-Aratu, is a very active one, and we were able to impact our community in a rather impressive way. Our projects included distributing food to the homeless, supplying hospitals with mattresses, organizing medical clinics, and funding tutoring for public school students. There I made some wonderful memories and friends, with whom I still keep in contact. I guess that’s precisely how I feel about Rotary: it’s a big international family. Among Rotarians, I feel at ease, at home.
In 2015, I decided to attend Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena in Germany to study the European legal system. I participated in the local Rotaract club and met some fascinating people. During my first meeting, I met a lovely girl named Julia, and we’ve been dating for over 2 years now. That’s precisely what amazes me about Rotary: this capacity of bringing people together despite their historical or geographic backgrounds, overcoming cultural barriers and creating this special art of global thinking/belonging.
I’m currently in Brazil and preparing to defend my bachelor’s thesis. I’m not quite sure what is yet to come once I’ve graduated. But one thing I’m sure of: whether in Brazil, Germany, or elsewhere Rotary will always be a part of my life.
Learn more about exchange opportunities through Rotary