Most of us have a few good friends, usually in our own communities or not too far away. Generally, we’re quite comfortable with that limited mix. Certain organizations such as Rotary, however, have set up ways to expand friendships around the world.
Rotary International actually encourages Rotarians and others to make friends far and wide in our global village. It has two programs in place to expand its friendship base—Group Study Exchange and Group Friendship Exchange.
Here in Castlegar, both Rotary clubs have outstanding records in regard to participating in these two programs. Exchanges in the past few years have been from places such as Australia, New Zealand, England, Brazil, South Africa, Taiwan, Spain, Iowa, and Wisconsin/Minnesota.
My wife and I have been involved in both programs through one or the other of Castlegar’s two Rotary clubs. We like opening our home up to visitors from other places in the world. In turn, when we travel, we get welcomed into homes in the far reaches of the globe.
Group Study Exchanges create brief friendships. We have hosted many travelers from these groups over the years, but there is no return engagement with the country or area they come from. Sometimes, of course, a Rotarian may set up a specific travel itinerary with one of these visitors, but generally this does not happen.
Rotary study exchange groups are made up of one senior Rotarian leader and four or five young professionals who are selected to travel to a far-off country and Rotary District. These Rotarians arrive in the new country and district with a purpose—to learn as much as possible about their professions in the host country.
For example, on the most recent Group Study Exchange in Castlegar, the Brazilian professionals were made up of a computer instructor, a meteorologist, a teacher, a journalist, and a dentist. Along with being shown the local sights and staying in local homes, they visited with their professional peers on at least one day during their stay. For example, a visiting dentist observed a local dentist at work, and a computer instructor spent time at Selkirk College. Friendships, however, rarely extend beyond the visit.
Group Friendship Exchange, on the other hand, seems to be a better program for participants to come away with lasting friendships. This is partly due to the age range being more compatible and the reciprocal visiting. If your Rotary club or district hosts a group from another corner of the world, the club or district will get to send members to that area of the world. Sometimes a few of the same people are involved at both ends.
For example, after we hosted Brazilians from Sao Paolo state here in Castlegar five years ago, we were invited to tour that same state a few months later. We re-united with some of the same people we hosted.
Just last week, we had Rotarians from Wisconsin/Minnesota visiting in Castlegar on a friendship exchange. They were being hosted in Grand Forks, Castlegar, Cranbrook, and Sandpoint, Idaho and were spending three days in each place.
We had agreed to host a couple named Don and Carol Drost from Cameron, Wisconsin, and in three days, we hit it off so well that we hated to let them go. Don’s sense of humour—often understatements or wry comments on life—kept us laughing for the duration.
We hadn’t signed up for the return trip to Wisconsin because we had a trip to China already planned for that time period, but we told them we would show up on their doorstep in the future. And we will!