By Christian Miguel da Silva, alumnus of Interact and Rotaract clubs, Rotary Youth Exchange program, and the New Generations Service Exchange program.
Watching the news today can create a lot of anxiety. Have you noticed how upside down the world can seem at times? But whenever I find myself feeling the darkness of the world we live in, I remember the positive experiences I have had in Rotary programs, and how they have made me an optimist.
I’m 30-years-old, and my first experience in Rotary was at 13. Invited by friends, I went to my first Interact Club meeting, and didn’t want to leave.
I grew up in Chopinzinho, a small Brazilian city with less than 20,000 inhabitants. Teenagers have two options for fun: Interact or the church. I chose the first. In Interact, I learned values that only volunteer work can instill: empathy, responsibility, and a sense of community.
But my greatest experience in Rotary was yet to come. At 16, I left my village to spend a year in La Paz, Mexico as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student. Few things make a young person mature as quickly as a cultural exchange. In Mexico, I was welcomed by incredible families; each family had its differences, and each taught me lessons I will carry with me the rest of my life.
During my exchange year, a tsunami devastated several countries in Asia in December 2004, killing millions of people. Among the victims were relatives of a Thai friend of mine who was in the same region where I was. That was the first time I realized that borders were nothing more than meaningless conventions. The pain of our friends is also our pain, as long as we are able to open up to the world.
After my exchange, Rotary continued to form me. I returned to Brazil and studied journalism. I became involved with a local Rotaract club.
In 2009, as I was about to finish college, Rotary gave me a new opportunity to travel the world. This time to the United States, where I was awarded a scholarship for the New Generations Service Exchange Program. For three months, I met communications professionals and companies who broadened my world view. At the same time, I interviewed many immigrants from the Mexican community in California to write a book report. The result was Al Otro Lado: Histórias de Vidas Latinas en Un Recorte de la Inmigración Mexicana en los Estados Unidos, work with which I earned a degree in Journalism.
I then worked for six years as a reporter and business and entrepreneurship editor for Grupo Abril, the largest magazine publisher in Brazil. I am currently working in a consultancy that helps large companies and non-governmental organizations identify and manage causes of social impact. It’s a way to continue working on issues that move the world in the right direction, which helps me keep an optimistic view of society.
Being part of the Rotary family made me a more complete professional. But that’s not all. I feel that the experience changed my relationship with the world for the better. These are learnings that make sure that, wherever I am, I am able to get ahead and do something more.
About the author: Christian Miguel is a journalist and student of Brazilian psychoanalysis. He is currently director of communication at CAUSE, a cause identification and management consultancy based in São Paulo, Brazil. Follow Christian on LinkedIn or Facebook.