As an advocate for international exchanges (two of my own children participated in the Rotary exchange program), I recently had the privilege of hosting a professional fellow from India through a prestigious fellowship program sponsored by the University of Oklahoma and the U.S Department of State. We have hosted fellows before, and most have jumped at the opportunity to participate in a program like this, but to my surprise, I learned that our fellow initially hesitated to accept the opportunity.
When I first met Hunny, he confided in me that he had an unpleasant experience here in the United States several years ago, and his experience had altered his perception of Americans. Unfortunately, since that experience his perception had only been reinforced by the media. He believed Americans to be cold and unapproachable, making him hesitant to embrace the fellowship opportunity.
With this in mind, we made a conscious effort to create a warm and inclusive environment for Hunny, introducing him to our friends, family, colleagues, and community members. Together, we participated in cultural events, exchanged ideas, and explored each other’s traditions. By breaking down barriers and fostering genuine connections, we started to build bridges between our two worlds.
The true beauty of international exchange programs exists in the sharing of knowledge and perspectives. During our time together, Hunny and I engaged in countless conversations that deepened our understanding of each other’s cultures, values, and traditions. Through our discussions, we discovered shared experiences and uncovered new insights that enriched our lives. We challenged stereotypes, debunked myths, and fostered a sense of curiosity that transcended borders.
The transformation within Hunny was remarkable. As he immersed himself in the American way of life, he realized that the notion of unwelcoming Americans was far from the truth. He was overwhelmed by the kindness, generosity, and openness he encountered at every turn. Similarly, I witnessed my own growth in embracing diversity, appreciating cultural nuances, and celebrating our shared humanity. Our experiences taught us the importance of welcoming others with open arms, regardless of their background or origin.
And this got me to thinking – isn’t this what Rotary is all about? Through human connections we can foster global understanding, break down barriers, build bridges and cultivate a more harmonious world. My hope is that we all continue to embrace the opportunity to host and be hosted, to challenge perceptions, and to create a future founded on empathy and appreciation for those not like us.