As an international club, Rotary gives its members unique opportunities to connect with people in other countries.
Rotary Club of Cleveland members Cameron Fisher, David Chaffin and Don Ritzhaupt shared stories visiting Rotary clubs in other countries at Tuesday’s meeting.
Trading banners with other clubs visited is a Rotary tradition.
During a recent trip, Fisher was able to collect three mementos from different Rotary Clubs.
The Cleveland Club already had banners from two of the countries — Australia and New Zealand. However, because the club did not have a banner from Fiji, Fisher made a special point to connect with a club in Fiji.
The club he visited was the first Rotary Club established in the South Pacific Islands.
“This was an international club. There weren’t any native Fijians it this club. It was in the downtown business district, so it was mostly just transplants. ... The only person who was a native Fijian was the person taking the money,” Fisher said.
One the day Fisher visited the club, contestants in the Miss Hibiscus pageant were honored guests.
“The Hibiscus Festival is the biggest festival held in Fiji,” Fisher said.
The club’s banner was a testament to Fijian culture.
“This is actually all made in Fiji from handmade materials,” Fisher said.
The banner was printed on handmade cloth, coconut and a piece of mahogany wood.
The cards the club gives to those visiting to give to their home club secretary to receive credit for attending was also rich with cultural heritage. The card gives a brief history of the club and Fiji.
In Oamaru, New Zealand, Fisher received another unique Rotary souvenir.
“It’s an Oamaru stone which is what Oamaru, New Zealand, is famous for,” Fisher said.
Visiting Rotary clubs while in other countries has also led to enhanced experiences for Rotarians. While in Australia, Fisher learned of a koala sanctuary from someone he met at the Rotary meeting. The park allows people to approach and pet the animals.
Chaffin has visited Rotary clubs in 38 states and six countries.
One of those six countries is Italy.
Chaffin said as he returned to his hotel after a day of activity, he passed a room where it looked like a Rotary Club meeting was being held. He went to the meeting and sat next to a German who was also visiting the club. The German man also knew Italian and interpreted the meeting for him.
He hopes to visit a club in each of the 50 states in the U.S.
Clubs in European countries tend to be more formal and feature more expensive meals than many in the United States.
“English Rotary meetings are a real extended production. They last about 2 1/2 hours,” Chaffin said. “The medals and regalia the English presidents of the club wear literally weigh about 30 pounds. They are more dressy affairs than we are used to.”
Many of Chaffin’s international club visits came as a result of people he was traveling with telling him about the meeting.
“They are always fun,” Chaffin said. “Don’t ever pass up an opportunity to [attend] an international meeting.”
He said Tennessee, Kentucky, Alaska and West Virginia are his favorite states to attend meetings. His favorite city to visit Rotary clubs is Phoenix. His favorite country is England.
“When you go to these meetings you are going to get a lot of local information from the different individuals you talk to,” Ritzhaupt said. “You are going to find that they are going to have great ideas of things they think you should do to get to know their community, and they are right.”
He encouraged Rotarians to allow time to connect with Rotary members.
A visit to a club in Switzerland was the most expensive visit he ever made.
“The average age of this club was probably 75 years old. They sat at one, large round table that probably seated 20 to 30 people. We had gold-edged plates with the Rotary emblem on it,” Ritzhaupt said.
The bill for the meal came to $52.
“But it was an outstanding meal,” Ritzhaupt said.
He sat between a past chief executive officer of Nestle and someone who had owned five or six companies “throughout the world,” Ritzhaupt said.
“Both men could speak seven or eight different languages,” Ritzhaupt said.
Technology has made it easier for Rotarians to find clubs while traveling abroad. Rotary now has a phone application that allows members to input a city and get a list of the Rotary Clubs in that area.