By Logan Johnson, Youth Exchange and Youth Protection Promotions and Engagement Specialist at Rotary International
A few years ago, volunteers of the Rotary Youth Exchange program were sending thousands of students around the globe each year to learn new languages, discover new cultures, and become global citizens. Then COVID-19 brought almost every aspect of the program to a screeching halt. Like many other aspects of Rotary, the program found new life online with virtual exchanges, which offered a safe alternative to in-person exchanges.
But many anticipated the return of in-person exchanges, and as of May 2022 in-person exchanges were planned and are happening worldwide for the first time in over two years!
I first met Brett at the Rotary International Conference in Atlanta back in 2017 when he was strolling through the House of Friendship with a surfboard under his arm. Brett, a native San Diegan and Past President of the Rotary Club of La Jolla Golden Triangle, recalls that the moment we met “I knew we’d become friends and that we needed her on board.”
By Anniela Carracedo, member of the Rotary Club of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, USA, and a Rotary Youth Exchange Alumna
When I decided to become a Rotary Youth Exchange student, I had no idea how much it would change my life and the lives of everyone around me.
In 2017, I was invited to the Interact Club of Valencia, Venezuela, following my parents, who joined the Rotary Club of Valencia. I joined the club because I wanted to make a difference in my local community. I had seen Venezuela go from being one of the healthiest countries in Latin America to experiencing one of the worst humanitarian and economic crises in the modern world.
By Ignacio Gonzalez Mendez, a member of the Rotaract Club of Oriente de Talca, Chile
I must confess, I didn’t set out to find Rotary. Rotary found me. I became involved in Rotary through a series of fortunate events which has changed the way I look at everything.
When I was 13, I volunteered for the Red Cross and that experience led me years later to create a project to establish a first-aid station in my high school. At my graduation ceremony, I was surprised with an award from the local Rotary club for my volunteer work with the Red Cross. The award was in honor of one of my teachers, who passed away unexpectedly. Receiving the award and knowing that my teacher had appreciated my efforts gave me more inspiration to keep volunteering.
By Maria Valentina Martinez Belo, Rotaract Club of Ing. Boris Walter, Venezuela
We all have different talents. It’s what makes each of us special and unique. I have always felt a strong desire to organize big events and use my creativity to help others and make them feel special. Through Rotaract, I have been able to do that, changing my life and those of the people I have been able to serve.
By Mona Mousa, past president of Rotaract Stockholm and its international representative
I don’t have a professional background in social media management, but I have managed several social media accounts such as Rotaract Stockholm and Rotaract Oceania. In advance of the Global Citizen Live event in Paris in September, the rest of my team decided I should handle the Rotary Instagram page, as they have followed me for a long time.
It was an exciting and a scary opportunity because there are thousands of followers, but I went in with an open mind.
Mia Henderson, 2019-20 Youth Exchange Student from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to Madrid, Spain
When I was 16, Rotary offered me a chance to experience life beyond anything I had known before. After attending a meeting about Rotary Youth Exchange, I decided to apply to study in Spain.
It took months of hard work to prepare. But before I knew it, it was time to pack up my things and leave. I arrived for my 2019-20 exchange in an unfamiliar country, meeting people I didn’t know, who spoke a language I didn’t speak well. But even though this was my most difficult path yet, I was at peace.
Youth Service Month is a special time in Rotary. Throughout the month of May, members of Rotary clubs, Rotaract, Interact, and those involved in Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) and Rotary Youth Exchange celebrate the opportunities Rotary provides to connect, grow through service, develop leadership skills, mentor or be mentored, and have fun.
By Caitlin Cangialosi, Rotary International Programs and Engagement Specialist
Every year, over 350,000 youth participate in Rotary’s youth programs. Yet, until recently, Rotary didn’t have resources that directly engaged them in service, a fact that surprised me when I first began working for Rotary International’s Programs for Young Leaders team in the spring of 2019.
By Alex Ritchie and Taylor Huie, executive co-directors of the Ascension Rotaract MDIO, and Ally Fisher, chair of the RotarActs of Kindness campaign
As life-long members of the Rotary family, our passion for Rotary and Rotaract stems from the deep friendships we have formed and the meaningful service we have taken part in. These last few years have been a whirlwind, from first meeting at the 2018 Rotary International Convention in Hamburg to launching a new Rotaract Multidistrict Information Organization (regional groups of Rotary districts that form for the purpose of disseminating information and facilitating communication among Rotaract clubs in the participating districts). Through this, our friendship with each other and the connections we have made with others have truly been life-changing.