How Rotary Youth Exchange shaped my life

Ivan Vianna

By Ivan Vianna, District 4760 Rotary Youth Exchange chairman emeritus and a member of the Rotary Club of Belo Horizonte-Pampulha, Brazil

My Rotary Youth Exchange provided me with the main ingredients I needed to be successful in my profession as an engineer. More important, the experience shaped my character and helped make me the person I am.

In January 1968, I began my exchange year in Montrose, Pennsylvania, USA. I knew enough English to communicate, but adjusting from the 98 degrees Fahrenheit days in Brazil to 12 degrees during a Pennsylvania winter was rough! Much was different – school, food, the culture. But the love shown by my host families – first the Oleniaczes, then Elys, and Schooleys – helped me adjust. Rotarians made so sure I participated in club activities that I thought I was a Rotarian!

Vianna, as a Rotary Youth Exchange student, visits Washington D.C. in 1968.

The year was an eventful one in the United States – the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., the presidential election. I felt like a witness to history. I shook hands with George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. And attended a concert by a little known guitar player by the name of Jimmy Hendrix.

During the whole period, I made only one call to Brazil, because it was too expensive and difficult.

When I left for home, it was hardly the end of my youth exchange experience. As time went on, I realized how much I benefited from the skills I had learned: the ability to adapt to new cultures, the language and communication skills, the maturity I gained, and the ability to respect differences and be broad-minded. I had become a multi-cultural person.

The exchange impacted me in another very personal way. When Pat Ely, the son of one of my host families, came to Brazil, I met the daughter of his host family, Virginia Rocha, who later became my wife. Virginia and I have two children and four grandchildren. And Bonno, our dog.    

My son Gustavo, also an engineer, took part in a Rotary Youth Exchange to Montrose, hosted by the Oleniacz family that had hosted me.

I joined Rotary in 1992, have served on district committees, on the Rotary International Youth Exchange Committee, and have taken part in 20 RI Conventions, 18 of them as a speaker and/or moderator for Youth Exchange.

In my travels, I have met many people through networking and making friends. I love these activities, and it all goes back to my youth exchange. It has helped make me who I am.

What is your Rotary Youth Exchange story? Share it with us at blog@rotary.org

Source: Rotary Voices

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