Sunday, April 8, 2012

Rotary -- what it means, what I have learned

"I was a Rotary exchange student in high school. I spent a year in _____," is a phrase we have heard many times throughout the trip, in nearly every city that we have visited in Finland.

Sure, I admit, I thought I had an understanding before leaving Kansas of how Rotary has an impact on the World. I really didn't. What does it mean to me now? What have I learned?

Simply put, I now truly understand the meaning of the word humanity. Odd? Yes. Didn't you learn that in elementary school? Yes.

We say the phrase "I am only human" to reconcile or explain fault. We use the word "humanitarian" to explain selfless acts of kindness and aid. At the height of love, laughter, or sadness, we are at the peak of materializing "human" emotion. Understanding humanity is the realization that no matter where you are in the world, we are all the same, we are all tied to these inherent concepts -- it is only our purposeful human undertaking that creates differences.

If you think of it on an abstract level, societies are created by the framework of individuals living within a defined boundary. Nationalism, culture, and the economy develop as time passes, and government and law typically establish the framework for which people live. War, political turmoil, and other human events change the history within that framework, thereby changing the paradigm in which one views the world. Whether we see it through a divine spiritual lens, or not,, we as humans make everything up. We innovate and adapt to the world which we were given in a point in time.

Universally, however, the basic concepts of humanity stay the same.

No better example can be found than our stop in Lapua, specifically, the back of a thrift store. After digging through 70's style sweaters and Finnish Star Wars video tapes, we were invited in the back of the thirft store to share coffee, cake, and smoked salmon with an elderly lady who did not speak English. We were delightfully surprised at the invitation. For 30 minutes, with someone we had never met, we used hand gestures and caught various phrases to find a common understanding. It wasn't anything that she said that I took away, it was the smiles, hugs, and laughter that we shared with someone whom we have never met -- half way across the globe from our families and friends. The feeling when we closed the door behind us is one we will never forget.

Coming back to the phrase, "I was a Rotary exchange student in high school. I spent a year in ______" Rotary, and the gracious hosts scattered throughout the world should be proud. Just like many others across the globe who have uttered these words, you have provided us the opportunity to understand humanity, to bridge the cultural gap, and be individual olive branches of peace. Each Rotary exchange is a small act on the stage we know as the world, but each vitally important in providing meaning to the word humanity, and closing the curtain on cultural differences.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Vaasa, Finland

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