|Rotary International's Group Study Exchange program members who visited from Australia last week are, from left, Caroline Fox, Tourism Promotions Manager; Peter Kain, Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Kirsty Mitchell, Country Guesthouse Schonegg; Sally Wells, Tourism Southern Highlands; Sarah Dawson, Capital County Tourism, and local driver John Stewart, Sunup Rotary and area assistant governor.|
TribPhoto/Heidi Dahms Foster
If you think Rotary International's Group Study Exchange program is a glorified vacation, think again.
"GSE stands for 'get sleep eventually,'" said Caroline Fox, a member of the Australian group that visited Arizona this past week.
The comment elicited laughter from the other four members, but their itinerary bears out its validity.
The team started its 6-week tour in Phoenix, moving to northern Arizona April 16-22 for stops in Prescott, Prescott Valley and Sedona before heading to Bullhead City and Las Vegas. A team from India also visited.
Peter Kain, a finance officer from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is the Australian group leader and Rotarian from District 9710, which covers the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra) and the southeast corner of New South Wales.
"My role is to coordinate and develop the team prior to arrival and 'stamp out bush fires' while we're here," Kain said with a grin.
At 61, he is beyond the usual 25-40 age range for the cultural and vocational exchange for business and professional men and women, but the club recently modified some of the program requirements.
"I've wanted to do this for a long time and was very fortunate to get this one," the 20-year Rotarian said.
In fact, he had to forgo spending his 42nd wedding anniversary with this wife on April 20, the day the group toured Prescott Valley.
Fox, 38, said she would spend her second anniversary in Las Vegas "with this lot."
The group's four women each work in the tourism industry, three of them with information centers, said Sally Wells, 26, a tourism consultant in the region where the movie, "Babe," was filmed.
"This is a great place to come for the tourism industry," Wells said.
"The hospitality we've been shown has been second to none," Kain noted.
Each member stays with one Rotary family for about 4-6 days, before moving to another area.
"This is an amazing opportunity," said Sarah Dawson, 27.
Her tourism position encompasses strategy and development for the local government two days a week, and marketing and development for a wider region the other three work days.
Kirsty Mitchell, 40, is the office manager of a Bed & Breakfast near Yass, about 50 minutes from Canberra. Being away from her two children and husband, who is the chauffeur for the U.S. Ambassador, is tough, but not an opportunity she wanted to miss. She observed that Arizona and Australia are similar in the diversity of their topography and climate.
"I was pleasantly surprised," said Fox, who hails from the area where the "Man from Snowy River" legend originated. "I anticipated a lot of similar countryside (mostly dry desert)."
The countryside brought back memories of childhood television westerns for Kain, but that isn't its main attraction.
"The main thing is the people we're meeting. It's founded on fellowship and all the different people from different backgrounds," he said. "It's fabulous."
Although each is gleaning something a little different from the experience, all agreed on one distinct aspect.
"We're more alike than we are different," Fox said. "We see how small the world is and how similar are stories are. It's kind of comforting that everyone has the same challenges and issues. We can relate."
"It's always nice to learn about somebody else's life," added Mitchell.
To view the group's blogs, visit http://rotary9710gse.blogspot.com/