Austin Rotary Club brings the world home

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 30, 2000

A certain presidential candidate calls himself a "uniter; not a divider.

Monday, October 30, 2000

A certain presidential candidate calls himself a "uniter; not a divider."

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Today, the Austin Rotary Club can stake claim to being a world-class uniter.

The local Rotarians hosted 73 youths from 40 different counties over the weekend.

The Rotary Youth Exchange Weekend also attracted 17 ROTEX youths or Americans, who spent a school-year overseas with the Rotary’s foreign exchange program.

The students arrived Friday night and made Ellis Middle School their headquarters.

On Saturday a whirlwind agenda took them to nearby Bethlehem Free Methodist Church for breakfast, lunch with local Rotarians and local nursing homes, where they delivered carved pumpkins to residents.

In the afternoon Saturday, they practiced team-building skills at Ellis Middle School, where a six-station challenge course tested their mettle.

The special guests were given a personal tour of the Austin Jaycees Haunted House attraction at the Mower County Fairgrounds and spent Saturday night having fun with a pre-Halloween costume contest and dance.

After breakfast today, they will board their buses for a return trip to Burnsvill before dispersing to their host families.

"They having a ball," observed Jean McDermott, EMS principal, Saturday afternoon. "They all having fun with the challenge course and getting to know each other."

McDermott’s school was also the host of the Big Nine Conference swim meet, so the place was as busy with swimmers and Rotarians guests as it is during a typical school day.

Amy J. Baskin was one of the volunteers, helping the students negotiate through the challenge course.

Like McDermoot, Baskin could only say positive things about the guests.

Helping make the weekend a success were the ROTEX youths or veterans of Rotary Youth Exchange visits overseas.

Carmen Higueros of Anoka visited Chile in the 1997-98 school year. Now a student at Anoka – Ramsey Community College, Higueros has been a ROTEX member since her return from Chile.

Although she has visited her father’s native Guatemala, the year in Chile was the first time she was on her own and she said, "It was fantastic. I loved it."

"I grew up and became more independent," she said of the experience. "Being involved with ROTEX and helping students adjust to life in the United States is a very rewarding experience."

Similar praise for the Rotary Youth Exchange experience came from Nate Confer.

The Maple Grove resident spent last year, his senior year in high school, in Germany. Now, he is a freshman at the University of Minnesota.

"I think the hardest part of my visit to Germany was learning the language," he said "In school, there was a lot more emphasis placed on discussion. It amounted to 50 percent of your grade. I wasn’t used to that back home, so I had to adjust.

"That helped me become more self-confident and when I returned, instead of just the usual clique of friends it grew," he said.

While Higueros sought out two members of the Rotary Youth Exchange Weekend from Chile, Confer met four youths from Germany.

Both Higueros and Confer, as well as their ROTEX teammates helped the visitors, all who have been in the United States since the start of the current school year, adjust to life in America the way they adjusted to live overseas.

"They a good group of kids," Higueros. "they’re really enjoying themselves and have a lot of enthusiasm," said Confer.

With over 40 countries represented, there were bound to be some language barriers to scale.

Judging by their laughter and squeals of delight, laughter ruled as a universal language and signaled what a good job the host Rotarians did.