An international student marks her home country on the map during a picnic organized by the Rotary Club of Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.
By Randy Bretz, Rotary Club of Lincoln, Nebraska, USA

If you think there’s not much your local Rotary club can do to foster international relations, think again. I have some ideas for you that are relatively simple and can help establish positive relations not just among individuals but entire countries.

My club is located in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, home of the University of Nebraska. In fact, we have four universities and colleges in Lincoln. Each semester and often during the summer, these institutions host international scholars and students. Typically, people visiting or studying at a local institution are very interested in connecting with people in the community.

Our club is involved in “incidental international relations” in several ways. For example, each fall after the academic year begins, we work with representatives at the campuses in our area and invite international students to participate in a picnic. We cook hot dogs and hamburgers, baked beans and corn on the cob, organize a few activities and games and just enjoy a fun Sunday afternoon at a local park in Lincoln.

One activity is to give each student an ear of corn still in the husk and ask them to prepare it to be boiled for the meal. After all, we ARE known as the “Cornhusker” state. Our members often make friends with some of the students and those friendships last even after the international students have returned home. We’ve shared some videos of picnics on our Youtube channel.

Another activity has been to invite international students to visit our club meetings. Recently, the University of Nebraska has hosted a number of African leaders as part of the U.S. State Department’s Mandela Washington Fellows project. Each year, our club invites the 25 Mandela Fellows to join us for a meeting, and we spread them out at different tables to mingle with our members. Without a doubt, lasting friendships are made which result in ongoing communications between young African leaders and Rotarians willing to offer an idea or suggestion.

Like clubs around the world, our club and District 5650 participate in Rotary Youth Exchange programs. These exchanges have resulted in life-long family like relationships not only for the visiting students, but for the host families on both ends. It’s not at all unusual for us to have visitors to our club from young men and women who were exchange students, returning to visit their Rotary families.

Bob Rauner, who helps coordinate District 5650 Rotary Youth Exchange noted, “One of the best ways to world peace is building international relationships, and Rotary Youth Exchange builds lifelong relationships between countries. It’s amazing how connected former Rotary Youth Exchange students become. The Rotary Youth Exchange students develop an extensive network of connections with students from around the world during their exchanges.”