Building new Rotary friendships during a pandemic

By Pam Harrison, past District 7810 District Rotary Friendship Exchange Chair, Canada 

In 2019, my District 7810 (Canada/USA) decided to arrange a Rotary Friendship Exchange with District 2380 (Sweden) to take place in May 2020. Rotary Friendship Exchange is an international exchange program for Rotary members and friends that allows participants to take turns hosting one another in their homes and clubs. Participants may travel as individuals, couples, families, or groups, and may be Rotary members or not.

For over a year, Monica Mimer, the District 2380 Rotary Friendship Exchange Chair, and I sent several emails arranging the exchange. We discussed our preparations for the exchange – where we would visit, concerts we might attend, food we would eat, historic adventures, dates and travel plans built what was going to be the trip of a lifetime. In October 2019, eight Rotarians from five clubs met to arrange travel plans to Sweden in May 2020 and Sweden to Canada in October 2020. Our dreams of making Rotary friendships that would continue long after the exchange came to an unexpected halt when the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic. The pandemic changed everything.

In this time of technology, Monica and I decided to organize our first Virtual Rotary Friendship Exchange. Every day, members of both Friendship Exchange teams sent pictures with historic facts, cultural information, fundraising ideas, food temptations, club projects, or party opportunities relevant to their culture and country. All Rotarians involved looked forward to the daily email.

We learned about our districts in a very different, but interesting way. Friendships were established and we felt tears in our eyes as we read the final emails. It will be several months before we can travel, but we look forward to meeting our new friends in person one day soon.


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