Phyllis Jane Nusz, a past district governor from California, USA, attended her first Rotary International convention in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1997 as an incoming club president.
“I have never stopped going since,” she says. “It was amazing to see people for the first time from all over the world — the different languages, dress, and food. But we all had the same dedication to Rotary.
“I ran into so many people I never knew before but who today are still my friends, and I share Christmas cards with them, take part in club projects with them, join together for family activities, and so much more.”
Rotary’s annual convention gives members an opportunity to travel, to explore new cultures, and to meet new friends, all while exchanging ideas with leaders equally committed to making a difference in the world. In the past decade, Rotary members have been entertained by hosts in Birmingham, England; Montréal, Quebec, Canada; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; Bangkok, Thailand; Lisbon, Portugal; and Sydney, Australia. The 2015 convention will bring the family of Rotary to São Paulo, Brazil. Many host cities make special accommodations for convention goers, such as dedicated trains to and from the convention site and sightseeing packages in and around the city.
Nusz and other frequent attendees agree that there’s no better way for newer members to learn about Rotary on a larger scale. Workshops and breakout sessions enable convention goers to enhance their leadership skills, gain insights into Rotary’s inner workings, and learn about a variety of service-related topics. Sessions explore subjects like Rotary Foundation grants, resources available to clubs, and how a club can work with partners and the local community to take on larger projects that will have a sustainable impact.
In the House of Friendship, attendees can visit booths showcasing Rotary service projects, where they might find a partner for their project. They can also learn about Rotary Fellowships — groups of Rotarians who share a common interest — and Rotarian Action Groups, which are autonomous groups of members with expertise in a particular field.
Tanya Wolff, who has been to 11 Rotary conventions, most enjoys connecting with old friends and meeting new ones.
“I spend a lot of time in the House of Friendship after attending the speaker sessions,” says Wolff, a member of the Rotary Club of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. “The rest of the time, I’m exploring the city or country. Where else can you go where there are thousands of people you share so much with?”
Evan Burrell, a former Rotaractor and now a member of the Rotary Club of Turramurra, in New South Wales, Australia, is also no stranger to conventions. At last year’s event in Sydney, he befriended scores of Rotary members, snapping selfies with them to share on social media with as many other attendees as possible.
Burrell says he discovered the thrill of Rotary conventions when members in his district helped him attend the 2010 Convention in Montréal as a district Rotaract representative.
“Rotary conventions are just a blast,” Burrell says. “It’s when you know you are part of a bigger organization and you see the melting pot that is Rotary, the internationality of it all, and the rainbow of cultures.
“In the House of Friendship,” he adds, “you see all the different projects. To me, the best thing about Rotary is convention, and the chance to meet so many different people and share ideas. It really is our best selling point to outsiders because it shows what we do and what we are about.”
Margaret Lesjak has been to only one convention so far — last year’s — but she’s no less hooked. As a member of the Rotary Club of Broken Hill South, New South Wales, she was already familiar with the Sydney area, but she was drawn to the opportunity to meet Rotary members visiting from around the world.
“My days started off on the trains dedicated for Rotary use,” Lesjak recalls. “People happily chatted away, and strangers became — at the very least – ‘mates’ for the rest of the convention.
“I met two women from Mexico whose husband/father had been a Rotary Youth Exchange student in Nyngan, a small country town in the center of New South Wales. I had visited Nyngan several times, but on the last night of the convention, their quest to meet someone from Nyngan came true: One of the guest speakers had grown up there!”
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