Paulie Johns – Outbound to Quebec 1967

In 1967 this Berkeley girl embarked on a summer service exchange adventure in Ste. Foy, Quebec.  How could I NOT go on exchange, when so many of my friends had done so?  I was astounded at how enormously appreciated my group of exchange students were for the services we offered the community!  The experience definitely cemented the notion of “service” into my being!

My French was passable but I was too shy to try using it.  I loved that the 7-year-olds on the city playground where I worked “took me under their wings” and taught me not to be afraid to speak French (or should I say, Quebecois?)!   My French/Quebecois is now nigh unto fluent!

Nobody told me at the time that I was engaging in the adventure of a lifetime, or that exchanges are forever.  

But  now, so many years later, my host brothers and sisters are still my close friends.  Over the years my family has hosted short term exchange students from France and Germany, and I was invited twice to chaperone groups of high school students on their visits to France, where I stayed with the families of my French children.  When I joined Rotary in 2008 I threw myself into RYE, enjoying so many roles that one can fill:  host parent, club Inbound counselor, club Outbound counselor, club YEO, club Short Term Exchange counselor, D5130 RYE Leadership Team.  All has been positive, and has lapped over into hosting for the Rotary Group Study Exchange and the Rotary Friendship Exchange.

I have met people from Canada, France, Germany, Denmark, Thailand, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Italy, Paraguay, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan, The Netherlands, India, but…I’m not a world traveler!  I bring the world to me.   I’ve seen how the exchange of cultures truly opens minds!

Gabe Peterson – Outbound to Austria 2017-18

The Rotary Youth Exchange Program is not only for young and curious leaders to become an ambassador of the program in a foreign land, but also to discover themselves in a different light. In my case, I traveled to Austria in 2017-2018 from Petaluma, California. I enjoyed the luxury of not only learning a new language, but jumping in the local lake (Wörthersee) in the summer and visiting the glorious mountains in the winter (Grossglockner) and meeting new people all the while. My favorite thing of Austria was the combination of cultures based on its proximity to other countries. Hearing not only German, but Italian and Slovenian in the streets really added to the multitude of foreign countries. Once I returned, I understood the significance of family, my community in Petaluma and my importance as a young and curious leader in our society. 

Because of RYE I learned that bringing us together is important no matter where you live and that is why I’m motivated to “revive” Rotaract in the south district and brainstorm on how to improve the lives of those in our community through volunteer work, community projects and fundraising events. 

Alison Mason – STEP Outbound to Germany 2016

I can easily say that my experience with STEP (Short Term Exchange Program) changed my life. The summer of 2016, I participated in STEP with my host sister Anne, from Lingen, Germany. During our 6 weeks together, Anne and I spent time meeting each other’s friends and family, exploring our hometowns, tutoring each other in German and English, etc., My family and I had so much fun exploring Northern California with Anne and I cherish the memories I made with Anne in her family exploring both the small city of Lingen and the bigger cities like Hamburg and Berlin. Some of my favorite memories though were those BBQs or picnics with each other’s family and friends in both Petaluma and Lingen.

I am so grateful that Anne and I are still in contact! She and her family came back to America in Summer 2018 and we were able to share my family’s 4th of July traditions with them, along with exploring San Francisco. It was such an amazing experience to have our two families meet after years of only knowing each other through stories. I was looking forward to seeing them again in Fall 2020 for my study abroad in Germany, but with COVID, I am counting the days till I can get back over and see them again!

This spring I will be graduating with a BA in German and a minor in International Business and am excited for my next chance to return to Germany now that I can finally speak the language. Taking part in STEP not only sparked my interests for my career but gave me the chance to grow and learn that great things can happen when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Whether it’s in my professional career or a personal hobby, I plan to keep German a part of my life and am grateful that STEP introduced me to something I love, along with new people that I love and experiences that I will hold close to me for my lifetime. Thank you, Rotary for all that you do for groups and individuals alike!

Tom Flamson – Outbound to Brazil 1993-94

Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, then future and now former president of Brazil, speaking in Montreal in 1996. This was taken before the concept of “photobombing” had been named.

Twenty-eight years ago I made one of the most momentous decisions of my life, when I chose to go to Brazil as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. That year was one of my most eventful, visiting entirely new worlds for the first time, and getting to know a wider array of people than I had ever had a chance to know before then. I learned about the new ways of thinking that living in another language affords, and the kinds of things you have to step outside of yourself to see. And it wasn’t just the Brazilians I lived with who showed me a wider world; thanks to the amazing efforts Rotary International makes, I got to know an incredible cohort of other exchange students from all over the globe who were all there, trying to understand Brazil at the same time.

That year as an exchange student has remained interwoven in my life throughout the years since. My experience then directly led me to pursue a career in anthropology, studying the differences and similarities between cultures. I’ve returned to Brazil a number of times since to do field research, visit my old host families, speak at conferences, and even catch a World Cup game live and in person! And the connections I made as an exchange student remain strong; twenty years after spending my Junior year in Brazil, I got to visit my old host sister in Paris, and get a local’s tour of Amsterdam with one of the other RYE students. I even got to meet Lula, the (then) future president of Brazil, while visiting other exchange students in Montreal. Even though my RYE year ended decades ago, it remains a constant presence in my life, and I really can’t even picture who I would be without Rotary.

Klark Swan – Outbound to Germany 2003-04

“My year aboard changed my life forever.” A statement you hear often
from ‘rebounds’ of the Rotary Youth Exchange program. The best part
is that it changes us all differently. I have always joked that Rotary
sends you to the country you need, not the one you want.

From 2003-2004 I lived in a small town in the northwest of Germany. I was
an “ideal” candidate for the program. Confident, independent, made
friends easily and was always on point for quick witted remarks.
Unfortunately my German classmates were not found of the wit I
relied so heavily on in the US. This was the year I learned to listen to
hear and not just to reply. A challenge I almost gave up on several

I truly feel that having to pivot my communication style so abruptly at
16 years old, made me who I am today. I am endlessly grateful to
Rotary for giving me the country I needed. I wanted to give back to
the program that gave me so much, so I became the founding
President of ROTEX 5130. Then the founding President of the Lost
Coast Rotaract.

The more I put into Rotary the more I got out of it. The
more involved I got, the more the world wide family of Rotary opened
up to me. Playing a big role in Rotary is not always easy, but it is worth
every moment. I am currently the President elect for the Rotary Club
of Eureka and am excited to see what lessons I’ll learn, friends I will
make and places I will travel.

When I Became a Rotarian – Tony Lander, Petaluma Valley Rotary Club

I’ve never been a member of a service club like Rotary before.  I joined three years ago in November and Melissa and the kids and I attended the PVR Christmas party.  It felt like this was becoming real.  We sat with Marcia and Ron Johns and Bruce and Tina Schumikowski and they were so nice and all the games and activities were a hoot.  Harlie and Rocco had a blast with the other kiddos.  The Carter twins Lilian and Mary Beth, and Mike and Cierra had Charlie there…really fun.

But the day I became a Rotarian was the day our exchange student, Mizuki Takeuchi, moved into my home.  I was concerned about joining Rotary in the first place because of the time commitments, and now we agreed to have a 17-year-old move in with us for 3-1/2 months.  WHAT WERE WE THINKING?!

We took Mizuki in as a family,  got to meet her whole biological family, spent an amazing holiday season with her, and we all learned a lot from each other and from that experience.

Harlie still talks about having one brother and one sister from that day.

This was a great experience that we will always treasure, and the day I truly became a Rotarian.

Jean Herschede – Outbound to Brazil, 1974-75 Rotary Club of Healdsburg

What possessed a 16 year old from small town Ohio to venture to Brazil for a year?
Wunderlust? Language? Culture? Escape from the disco craze of the mid-70’s? What I
remember was, “why not?” I had nothing to lose by interviewing except for time and
could gain that experience and possibly the golden ring to a location far away.

Now as I reflect back on that wonderful year and think about those who are thinking about
going, I say, “DO IT!”  Not only did I learn about a culture and language I knew nothing about, I more importantly learned about myself and my abilities. Living with host families who
did not speak English as I fumbled with my child-like Portuguese helped build
confidence that I could tackle anything.

Was it all a bed of roses? Remember that bed houses some thorns. The beginning
was hard. I was missing the opening day of the Cincinnati Reds, the big red machine, a
tradition my grandfather started at the age of 3 in 1904. I lived in a condo with three
brothers. No need to elaborate on that topic.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Today’s exchange students have advantages I never
thought possible. Internet, Google Translate, immediate access to family and friends
back home via email, SnapChat, WhatsApp, Zoom and whatever else is out there. I
had snail mail that took over a month to be delivered. Short wave radio had its
atmospheric challenges and timing, “over”. In some sense, it was a purer experience.

How has it affected me as an adult? After living in Colombia, while in college and
graduation from Vanderbilt University, I spent my career in software consulting focusing
on companies and subsidiaries based in Latin America. Currently, I am involved with a
Rotary non-profit providing education and heath to a remote indigenous population in

Johannes Alvekrens – Inbound from Sweden 2011-12

Before my exchange I felt like I needed to get away, that Sweden was not good enough or that I could not be content living here. Going on exchange opened my eyes to differences in the world, to really get to know a country and a culture on a deeper level made me realize many of the things I love about Sweden that I had taken for granted. It gave perspective. It has also helped me in being more understanding of different points of views, to accept different takes on what the world is like that I see missing in some of my countrymen here.

I have one friend who once told me that I had inspired him to travel more. We went to (swedish) high school together and he went backpacking first through Australia and later through Asia. These trips had a big impact on him and made him change course completely in life. He told me that I inspired him to gather the courage to go off on that first trip. 

How many people has my exchange impacted?  I’m not sure. I’ve been involved with youth exchange for a few years now and been in contact with hundreds (if not perhaps thousands) of exchange students in total. My effect on them is hard to estimate. Those that I have helped out directly in some very meaningful ways would probably be around 10-20. The friendships and beautiful memories created thanks to exchange keep growing. Our continuing involvement with Rotex is still going and keeps growing.

John Moller – Host Brother to Johannes

I was a host brother to Johannes Alvekrans from Sweden in 2011. I just graduated from Casa Grande High School and Johannes was going to attend the same school. It was a great experience to learn about him and Sweden. This was also one of the reasons I wanted to join Rotary and love the part of sharing cultures. When Johannes first came, I was able to share a little about the American culture and help him acclimate to school life at Casa Grande. Casa was a bigger school than one he was used to back in Sweden.  I introduced him to my friends there and they became a close group afterwards.

Since we were the first host family, I felt I was able to help him get started in school and understand our culture.  I also learned a lot from him as well.  Johannes introduced me to one of my favorite bands now, Mumford and Sons.  They are a Swedish band and this experience expanded my music genre.  After high school, I was just starting in my culinary career and he shared some of his brother’s recipes from Sweden. Even though we lived at the same house for a short time, it feels a lot longer because of with what we passed on.

Johannes stayed with us for the first three months and then came back for his going away party at our house. We were able to meet his parents Kicki and Michael who came to the party as well. That’s when the picture was taken showing them the chickens we had. The family has extended an invitation for us to come visit and we are Facebook friends with the family.  I hope to visit them when I travel to Sweden and Johannes and his family will always have a home if they visit Petaluma again. Being a host brother was a great experience learning other cultures and discovering new music and making lifelong friends.  When I have children, I hope to give them this opportunity and experience of hosting an exchange student.

Gennaro Francesco Lucchino (Gens) – Inbound from Italy 2018-19

My year as a Rotary Youth Exchange Ambassador affected a lot the way to think about the world and the direction I want to take in my life and future studies. 

I grew up a lot during my exchange year. I had the opportunity to try new experiences, make lifetime friends, learn and explore new habits and cultures. I completely understood what really means being open minded and having an intercultural mindset.