2016-2019 Int’l Rotary Club Reflections

It is times like this, in the Spring of 2020, when one especially reflects on how wonderful the outside world really is…

Several years ago, the Purdue Polytechnic’s transformation of the undergraduate learning experience added humanities into its traditionally technical framework, specifically the “integration of topics in the humanities that enrich our students’ understanding of historical, contemporary and future technology in society” and the “integration of topics in the humanities and other disciplines that foster critical thinking and logic”.  In fulfillment of these worthy aims, my Study Abroad was designed in 2016 to provide students with experiences in not only the technical aspects of globalization through tours of automobile factories and massive ports but also cultural and social aspects, including visits to local Rotary clubs.

Being able to integrate into local cultures is an important ingredient in international organizational success, as cultural awareness and global organizational success are directly linked.  Some of the students on past trips had never been on a plane or out of the state of Indiana.  To them, a key component of local immersion is insight related to local food and regional cuisine.  This plays a big role in organizational relationships because the food of a region provides a link to history, culture, common bonds, and social relationships, and Rotary provides the perfect opportunity to learn about formal dining in different cultures.

During our trip, students have plenty of time to eat in laid-back scenarios where they can discover local cuisine, but for our trip, they are required to bring at least one business casual outfit for Rotary meetings.  A formal European dinner always moves slowly than dinners in America, and students gain this experience through our Rotary meetings.  In Europe, Rotary dinner meetings are two hours, which includes social hour, followed by a sit-down with appetizers, followed by the entree, followed by coffee and then the program.  Meetings generally include 15-30 persons.

In order to integrate Rotary into the trip, I first go to Rotary International’s “Club Finder” (https://my.rotary.org/en/search/club-finder) and filter the local clubs that have meetings on dates when we may have the available free time.  Then I take a look at the clubs’ websites to contact them in order to see if they can accommodate our group.  I let them know where I’m from and let them know I’ll bring a flag from my local club to present to their president.

We make sure to spread ourselves around so that students have the opportunity to engage and converse with Rotarians in a meaningful way.  This is often their first experience with any service club.  Students see how to manage and lead a meeting because they witness firsthand how the club President conducts the meeting.  Most importantly, they gain an understanding of how a service club functions.  Usually the President opens the meeting by welcoming guests, in which case I get up and describe who I am, where my local club is located, why our Study Abroad is in the city, and what we like most about the city.

Below are pictures of European Rotary clubs where I have conducted the traditional exchanging of the flags with the club president.  Upon our return home, as is Rotary custom, I present the flags of the European clubs to my local club President during a meeting.

I’ve found that Rotarians from local clubs are always so nice and welcoming, both to myself and the students.  This is the main reason I keep bringing students back.  I appreciate that most European Rotarians are able to speak English with the students.  In the majority of the visits, the program/speaker accommodates us by switching to English, and the club President often switches to English to accommodate us.  Several meetings have been especially memorable…

One meeting in 2018 was in a far-away suburb of Munich, about 45 minutes via train from the city center.  It was a nice way to get away from the touristy areas, and we were assured that we would be enjoying authentic Bavarian cuisine.  We were especially lucky that the program (guest speaker) included the 2017-2018 Bavarian Beer Queen, who brought samples for everyone (see pictures below).

Another Rotary club in Rotterdam we attended in 2017 meets at the local soccer stadium, home of the Excelsior professional team, which has been in existence since 1902.   A friendly Rotarian there allowed us access to the stadium after the meeting and showed us their newly installed field turf.  Their stadium is the smallest of all professional soccer stadiums in the Netherlands.  The traditional exchange of the Rotary flags was notable, since the creator of their club’s flag was in attendance.  He chose to include a common Port vessel as their Rotary logo (he is the gentleman second to the right in the picture below).

Another notable Rotary meeting was in 2019 in Rotterdam, which led me to research more about the Dutch and Rotary.  The first Rotary club in the Netherlands was chartered in 1923.  Rotary became so successful in the Netherlands that by 1928, American Rotary founder Paul Harris visited some Dutch Rotary clubs.  Today, the Netherlands has 478 clubs around the country.  This meeting was held at the Rhoon Castle, which was built in the 12th century.  The program was presented by an employee of Royal Dutch Shell, who discussed the company’s future in innovation (see pictures below).

Rotary has a special significance in Hamburg.  “The first Rotary Club in Germany was founded in 1927 in Hamburg: it was the first Germany city to bridge the divide to the United States since the First World War” (Rotary International, 2016).  The speaker during a 2017 visit was the Director of the Hamburg Planetarium, Thomas Kraupe, the former President of the International Planetarium Society and a world-renowned physicist who recently oversaw the modernization and new launch of the Hamburg Planetarium.  We were ready for a German language presentation, but he graciously changed to English to accommodate us.  Dinner was held at the exclusive Hafen Club, where we were able to look down at the Port of Hamburg, which we had toured the previous day.  We were even able to see a container vessel loading cargo (see picture below, left).

Rotarians are always warm and friendly, and it’s been a fun time for our students.  They are treated as equals, which has offered an inviting vibe in our most personal settings during the trip.  This not just anecdotal.  One year, as part of a research project, I surveyed students to gauge the different effects of cultural versus technical experiences on student experiences, and meetings of Rotary were rated highest of all events.  Based on student survey data, I wrote an academic paper entitled “The Impact of Two Different Styles of Excursions During a Short-Term Undergraduate Study Abroad Experience”, which was published in the Global Journal of Human-Social Sciences in 2019.  Rotary’s service in helping me with that research is appreciated.  And Rotary connecting these students from Purdue University to the world is very appreciated!  Fast-forward to Spring, 2020, and these global connections are appreciated more than ever.