Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wrapping up

As the journalist in this group and a lover of words, it would seem on the surface as though it should be easy to summarize our trip, summarize our experience, summarize what we learned. But, as I sit at home in Sumter, South Carolina, a day after returning from a whirlwind four-week tour of England, I find myself at a loss for the right words. It's impossible to capture and convey all that I'd like, but I'll do my best.

I should start by saying, first and foremost, this trip proved to be life-changing for me and my teammates. I think no one would argue we are walking away forever changed by this experience. But now I must back up.

It's amazing how quickly the four weeks went by. It's even more amazing when I think this trip only materialized for me and my teammates four and a half months before we boarded a plane for England. We interviewed for spots on this GSE team back in April, and shortly thereafter, we were notified of our selection. Prior to that point in time, none of us knew one another and none of us knew we'd be traveling across the Atlantic in the middle of September for a month-long stay.

But as the weeks of summer progressed, our team began to meet, began to make our plans, began to create our group presentation. And on Sept. 12, we gathered, no longer strangers, at the airport in Charlotte and embarked on our journey. Four weeks later, on Oct. 11, we gathered once again -- and this time not just as acquaintances, but as friends -- and returned back to the States.

So much happened in between.

During the four weeks my team and I were in England, we stayed with eight different host families, immersed ourselves in the country and the culture, took part in vocational experiences and toured buildings and towns and cities steeped in history.

Our trip was to Rotary District 1070, situated in the East Midlands of England, and therefore the spots we visited, for the most part, were within that district. We stayed in Peterborough, Lecicester, the Deepings, Sleaford, Stamford, Northampton, Wellingborough and Brackley, with a weekend stop in the coastal city of Torquay thrown in the mix.

What made this trip truly exceptional -- at least in part -- was that we did stay in people's homes, rather than in hotels. We gained so much from this. The people we stayed with opened their homes to us as though we were family, sat down with us for meals and engaged us in riveting conversation. The kindness and hospitality we were shown was incredible.

And when we weren't at home with our hosts -- enjoying delectable English cuisine -- we were seeing the sights or learning about our careers in that country. Days alternated between tours of churches, cathedrals, castles and museums and visits to places of work comparable to our own back home. So much learning took place on both accounts. We amassed a great deal of knowledge and understanding of the rich history of the buildings and cities we visited. And our vocational visits allowed us to compare notes with how we did things back home. We gained information to take back home that will aid us in our careers and tried to pass along some helpful hints of our own.

And now, after a month of meeting some of the kindest people I've ever met, learning more than I thought was possible in four weeks' time, accumulating memories I'll keep with me forever and making several terrific new friends out of my teammates, I'm back home. I now am charged with the seemingly impossible task of expressing my gratitude to everyone who made this trip possible.

I am so incredibly grateful to Rotary International and all of the Rotarians who enabled me to have this experience. I have been impacted both personally and professionally, and I will forever be indebted.


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