Building international relationships through Open World

By Bill Bracken, Past President of the Rotary Club of Mid-Cities Pacesetters, Texas, USA 

There are many ways that Rotary promotes international understanding and goodwill, but the Open World Program is the one that our club enjoys the most. The Open World Program brings delegations of six to eight young professionals from former Soviet Republics to the United States. This allows them to build a personal relationship with an American family and exposure to Rotary.

Each group is hosted by a Rotary club(s), or other non-profit organizations. Surprisingly, only about 30 Rotary clubs participated last year. Our club has hosted delegations from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and two from Ukraine over the last five years. We love the close relationships that develop in a week. Three host families have maintained contact with some of the delegates and two host families are planning to visit Ukraine in the near future. We discussed a possible joint project with the Rotary Club of Kobelyaki in Ukraine.

During a dinner at a Rotary member’s home this year my wife brought her pecan pie for dessert. The delegates loved it so much that one asked for the recipe. At the next gathering my wife brought the ingredients and showed them how to make the crust from scratch and bake the pie. As a parting gift to the Rotarians from Ukraine, she included an ample supply of Texas pecans (which are very pricey in Ukraine).

Three women from the previous Ukrainian delegation became “adopted” daughters of their host family, calling their Rotary host “dad.” Although they wanted to “Uber” home late at night, he was so concerned about their safety he picked them up every night at the nightspot – as if they were his daughters.

Delegates live with families of the host organization during their visit. The delegates enjoy a weeklong schedule of professional activities and social events planned by the host club covering a theme which the delegates have pre-selected. For example, the four delegations we hosted selected one of these themes: local taxes, adoptions and foster care, or decentralization of healthcare. The goal of the delegates is to find ways to improve those programs in their country when they return home.

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This program is administered by Rotary International, but is sponsored and funded by the Open World Leadership Center, an arm of the U. S. Congress. There is no cost to the host Rotary club or district if activities are conducted within the Open World guidelines and the generous budget authorized by Open World. In the four years our club hosted, all our expenses were reimbursed.

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