Posts Tagged ‘Grand Rapids’

South Tour: Kochi – Calculating the improbability of this event is pointless

December 31, 2010

4 Dec

KOCHI TO MADGAON: This morning, we went to a Dutch Palace in Kochi.

There were foreigners inside.

Young foreigners.

Young foreigners with familiar faces.

Other Rotary Youth Exchange students.

Jaws dropped, lips began moving, and soon the palace was so abub with conversation that the staff told us several times to quiet down. We’d run into a group of exchange students from Gujarat who were on a tour of South India of their own, although theirs had just begun. Three of their number – Oona, Mary and Lila – had traveled with Olivia [Michigan, USA] and me into Mumbai, and several of us from the Central States conference in Grand Rapids were reunited.

The ten minutes our two groups shared passed by much too quickly. We had time to introduce ourselves, we were able to meet some fellow countrymen, and some business cards were exchanged. But as we split into two groups while boarding our respective buses, our meeting felt woefully incomplete.

I can’t tell you a single thing about that Dutch Palace. Whatever was remarkable about it got quite lost in the moment. It’s not surprising that another group of Rotary students would tour South India, and as this is the best time of year to visit Kerala, you could hardly be shocked the group was touring this time of year. But it’s still extraordinary that we met at all.

Calculating the improbability of our encounter is pointless – the way our faces lit up when we saw each other said it all.

Just fifteen minutes before, I’d visited a church for the first times since coming to India. St. Francis church doesn’t look like much on the outside, but at nearly 500 years old, it’s one of the oldest churches in India. The church was one of those places where quietness and piety overtake you, like the meditation room in Kanyakumari where I’d escaped the paparazzi the day before. For the first time in India, I sat down in a pew and prayed.

When I walked outside, I noticed the sun was shining after a week of rain.

It was a nice moment.


Click to enlarge


Why to be a Rotary Youth Exchange student

July 14, 2010

Nine months ago, I put on my best clothes, got in the car, and went to the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign to interview for Rotary Youth Exchange with a nervous stomach and a cynical mind.

The word “Rotary” had a different ethos to me last October. I’d heard how youth exchange changed people’s lives, and I was aware the idea was to send 16-18 year olds to another country for a year, but Rotary was just another option, lost in the myriad of colleges I was considering at the time. Why put off college, anyway? What need was there to spend an entire year in another country? I knew it would be an interesting year, but would it be worth it?

I spent last weekend with hundreds of other exchange students, and I can now wholeheartedly tell you this:

Rotary Youth Exchange is worth it.

I could make your eyes glaze over by recounting the events of the weekend. I could retell the stories I was told, reteach the lessons I was taught, and regurgitate the information I digested.

Instead, I’d prefer to tell you about the people I’ve met through Rotary. If I learned anything this weekend, it’s that amazing people, whatever their difference, exist everywhere. Here’s a far from complete list of the people who I spent time with.

-Jerryl Banait, an inbound from Nagpur, one of the most likable people I’ve met and someone who makes me excited to be spending a year in his hometown.

-Wesley Wiltgen, a rebound who spent about four hours alone just walking and talking with me about his year in Ankleshwar, India, one-on-one.

-John Hurst, another rebound who’s been to Nagpur and eased my fears of everything in India from shopping to stomachaches.

-Saurin Shah, an outbound headed to Brazil who’s shown incredible adaptability and stayed chill despite the fact his host country has changed twice in two weeks.

-James Claxon, an outbound who will be taking The Game with him to Germany in spite of my protests.

-Joe Chang, an inbound from Taiwan whom I wish I’d had many more than seven days to hang out with over the last four months.

I’m just sad the world isn’t populated by 6.8 billion people like those I met through Rotary.

But there are people like those in Rotary all over the world. With Rotary, you’re not alone. After I spent my first meal in the dining hall alone Thursday night, I rarely walked the campus alone. I had about a dozen best friends.

The Rotary process can be complicated at times. Submitting the initial application is a pain. Getting in touch with someone for the first time can be a challenge. Depending on the country you’re assigned, the paperwork for getting a visa and plane tickets can make you and your parents want to pull your hair out.

But what other program pays for your food, schooling and housing for a year? You will have to pay for the plane ticket, insurance, gifts, medical fees and any extra trips you want to take in your country. But Rotary actually gives you an allowance equivalent to about $50 a month, depending where you go. What other program does that?

But that’s not why you should be a Rotary Youth Exchange student.

Do it because of the people you’ll meet.

You won’t regret your decision.


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Things I learned yesterday in Michigan

July 9, 2010

From July 8-11, I am in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at a Rotary conference, wherein I am meeting students involved with Rotary who are studying abroad, have studied abroad, and (like me) will be studying abroad. Enjoy!


Michigan is a beautiful state that is densely packed with deciduous green trees.

Calvin College has an easy to navigate campus, and a touch of small-campus charm.

However, the dorms are not air-conditioned.

Dorm food is the same everywhere.

There is a very good chance that the first time you go to this Rotary conference, you will not know anyone there.

There is a very good chance that the first time you go to this Rotary conference, you will be disoriented.

There is absolutely no way that you will leave this Rotary conference not knowing anyone.

If you go 10 minutes without meeting someone new, you’re doing something wrong.

There are many large, fluid, groups of friends at the conference, and there is no exclusion from them.

There is a very good chance that the second time you go to this Rotary conference, you will know many of the people there.

Joe Chang is a really cool dude.

I met a lot of cool dudes today, I just don’t remember all their names.

Everyone here actually is everyone else’s friend.

See the third subhead. I was right.

It is quite normal for people at this conference to stare at your abdomen.

It is quite normal for you to stare at other people’s abdomens at this conference.

Around each person’s neck is a nametag which shows your name, your country, and whether or not you have been to that country yet.

The nametag rests on top of each person’s abdomen.

If the country on your nametag matches the country on another person’s nametag, you instantly forge a connection with that person.

“Antisocial” and “Rotary” are adjectives that will rarely be used together in the same sentence.

I met four people whose nametags read “India”.

I talked with those four people for approximately two hours about India alone.

Among the topics conversed about on India with those four people were food, food manners, schooling, the lack of schooling, swimming pools, pool halls, internet hotspots, hot spots to hang out, bartering, bartending, dogs, cows, airports, trains, buses, motorcycles, and, of course, cricket.

This conference makes me happy to be going on this exchange through Rotary.

I’m glad I’m writing all this down, because I don’t ever want to forget today.


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