A gloomy day at the beach did not dampen the spirits of 52 exchange students who were gathered at Zuma Beach attending a Malibu Rotary Club picnic event Friday.
Donning white t-shirts, the students were hosted by attentive Rotary Club members.
The Malibu Rotary Club, currently presided over by Dr. Jim Allen, is part of an organization of business and professional leaders who are united worldwide. They provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world as stated at their Web Site rotary.org.
Roy Passarelli, Malibu Rotary’s next president (as of July 1), said that the Rotary Club almost single handedly eliminated polio from the world because it crosses borders without the usual political affiliations. The club also works with the World Health Organization.
From Argentina to the Ukraine, exchange students representing 22 countries came to the Malibu Rotary Club gathering for a picnic. They met a day earlier, arriving from all corners of the U.S. where they had been staying with host families while they were attending local high schools with the Rotary Youth Exchange program.
Aside from unforgettable experiences gained from the exchange program, the students embarked on a 33-day train tour offered by SCANEX (Southern California and Nevada Exchange) Saturday.
The trip will take them from Los Angeles to San Francisco and on through the Mid West and then the East Coast.
Most of the students at the picnic met just yesterday, said Michele Ditri, 17.
Paul and Melody St. John hosted Ditri, who came from Italy. He attended Pacific Hills High School in Hollywood.
“I like the weather and people are warm,” said Ditri of the Americans he met.
But, as he spoke about cultural differences, he stated that what he misses the most is the Italian enthusiasm about soccer.
Melody St. John joined the students on the first leg of the train trip.
“It was absolutely sensational,” she said. The kids were so well-behaved.
“We had a great time in San Francisco,” said St. John as she listed the many activities the kids took part in while they were there.
“They took off for Portland on Monday,” said St. John.
Melody said that her husband Paul is a past Malibu Rotary Club president. They still own property in Malibu but reside in Hollywood now. Paul St. John is currently the president at the Hollywood Rotary Club. The St. Johns started organizing the train trips for exchange students four years ago.
“The first year we had 45 students,” she said.
“These kids have been here for a year and they are all 17 and 18 years old,” said St. John.
“They are just delightful kids,” she said.
“I haven’t had a problem yet,” added St. John jokingly.
Rotary Club members in Portland, Minneapolis and Philadelphia will host the students, said St. John.
The hosts in those cities will pick up them up and lodge them while they are in town, she said.
While she was talking, St. John pointed to students who participated in the program in earlier years. They came back to share the experience with others as they enjoyed it so much, she said.
Marek Schneider came as an exchange student from the Czech Republic in 1996. His stay in the U.S. was so pleasant that “I wanted to experience it again,” said Schneider, who came back to chaperone this year’s trip.
At home, Schneider is vice president of the Rotex Club. The Rotex Club is composed of program alumni who have a desire to remain in contact with each other. They serve as a social and support group for students involved in the Youth Exchange program.
He also started a Canoe trip event in the Czech Republic for kids who could not afford to come as exchange students, said St. John.
“We’ve kept in contact with all of our kids,” said St. John about the students they hosted.
In fact, the St. Johns just returned from Argentina where they stayed with a family whose child is a former exchange student they hosted.
“They took us all over,” she said. “It was very neat to meet the parents and stuff.”
The exchange goes both ways. Students from the United States also go overseas and benefit from the program. Rachel Chilcoat from Big Bear went to Denmark as an exchange student. She will chaperone this trip because she had a similar tour in Europe and really enjoyed it.
“When I came back I wanted to return the favor,” said Chilcoat.
Every year approximately 7,000 students ages 15 to 19 go abroad under the auspices of the Rotary Youth Exchange program, either for the academic year or an extended period of time.