Group Study Exchange (GSE), a major activity of The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International, works to promote international understanding and goodwill through people-to-people diplomacy.
The program provides grants for teams of business and professional persons to travel for four to six weeks in another country. Two Rotary districts participate in each exchange, each sending and receiving a team. Except for the leader, members of the team are all non-Rotarians and are sponsored by Rotarians in the team’s home country.
The GSE team member is not a tourist. He is a receptive “student” with enough background in his own society to appreciate what he encounters abroad. He is one average man learning from other average people. Much can be gained from intercultural understanding — more critical now than at any earlier time. GSE team members traditionally carry home a much more realistic and beneficial understanding of their host country than the stereotypes they are often exposed to in the international press.
We are fortunate to live in a country with abundant resources and opportunity, but our future security is dependent upon global economic and social interrelationships and better understanding of our international “neighbors.” This interrelationship must be based upon mutually beneficial partnerships rather than economic exploitation and can only be achieved through systematic exposure, experience and valuing of other cultures — without assuming the superiority of our own.
Last week, a Group Study Exchange team from Ireland spent a couple of days in our town. This group of one Rotarian team leader and four team members were hosted by our two Rotary clubs and individual Pagosa Rotary families who thoroughly enjoyed sharing their home and community life with our Irish guests.
During their short visit in Pagosa, they were able to spend a very wet and cold afternoon fly fishing in Williams Reservoir, enjoy our hot springs, and taste our locally brewed ales. Up to this point, weather in towns they had already visited — Grand Junction, Montrose — had proven to be a little too hot for them. We sure made them feel right at home.
The normal experience for GSE teams is to spend a part of their time visiting organizations and facilities in their own field of study and professions. Other time is spent understanding more regional economic and social issues. The Durango Rotary clubs took the team members to visit Mesa Verde National Park and arranged an in-depth visit to the Southern Ute Reservation in Ignacio.
Three of the four Irish team members are involved either directly or indirectly with law enforcement agencies. Since several of our local Rotarians are also either active or retired law enforcement officers, they found a lot of common interests to discuss. The Irish GSE team members hailed from both Northern Ireland and the (southern) Republic of Ireland. Hearing their street-level perspective of current politics and conflict levels was also very interesting for our local Rotary Club members. Good friendships formed and plans are already afoot for individual Pagosa Rotarians to go and visit their new Irish friends. International understanding and goodwill will continue in Irish homes and pubs.
The PLPOA monthly board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. today in the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse. Members and observers are encouraged to attend. Public comments are heard at the beginning of the meeting.