Developing international friendships through the Open World Program

By Carolyn Feuille, District 5190 International Service Chair and member of the Rotary Club of Nevada City, California                        

In September 2014, when my Rotary Club of Nevada City decided to apply for the Open World program and host a visiting delegation from Kazakhstan in 2015, we really didn’t know what we were getting into. The application process was thorough and a bit rigorous; it required us to really think through what our community had to offer a group of young professionals coming here to learn about American entrepreneurship, our chosen theme, how we would home host delegates, and what kind of interesting and meaningful opportunities we could offer to introduce our visitors to our work as Rotarians.

Then, on acceptance, we spent many months planning the program for this short, eight-day learning-intensive program. We underestimated how much work it would be to find host families among our club members, but we also didn’t realize how easy it was to engage entrepreneurial companies and other organizations in our midst to participate with us, and just how much fun it would all be. We really didn’t know how relationships with our delegates would develop into long-term friendships. In fact, our friendships have continued, and we just had a Zoom gathering in April 2020, almost five years later.

By the end of the delegates’ short stay with us, we had formed mutually strong relationships with these vibrant young professionals. Host families stayed in touch; for example, one delegate got married shortly after the program and we sent gifts and received wedding photos.

We shared updates and news with each other through e-mail and on Facebook. Within a year, Emin, one of the delegates, let us know he changed the business model of his non-profit crafts company. He acquired the means to make furniture instead of handcrafts and wicker objects. Gradually, he was able to learn what it takes to lead a workforce with disabilities, and his business became more profitable. He credits the idea for this enhancement from visiting a non-profit company with disabled employees and from a lecture on growing a small business during his visit to California.

What made our friendships grow was just staying in touch. My club president and I reached out to the Rotary Club of Astana, Kazakhstan and started a dialogue with its president to see what mutual interests we had.  Then in July 2017 I went to Kazakhstan after a tour in Russia, to cement our Twin Club relationship with the Astana club and to partake in a Friendship Exchange. During my visit, I was able to re-connect with five of the six delegates, and had a fantastic cross-cultural experience. Shortly afterwards, one of the delegates became a Rotarian.

This past April, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a get-together on Zoom with delegates, members of the Nevada City Rotary Club, directors and staff of the Open World offices and two coordinators of this program at the U.S. embassy in Astana. We learned that three of the delegates were expanding their small businesses, and they all reiterated how much they had learned from their rich experience in California. Open World was a very special, unique experience in our lives.

Open World, operated by the Open World Leadership Center, an independent U.S. federal agency, is a special program available to Rotary clubs in the United States through a grant secured by Rotary International.

Rotary International serves as a national hosting organization, with Rotary clubs serving as local hosts for Open World delegations of young professionals from eastern Europe. RI is able to reimburse clubs for many of their hosting expenses through Open World grants. Learn more about hosting an Open World Delegation.


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