Rotary brings the world home

By Jennifer Sik, Special to the Reporter

Exposure to different cultures ranks as one of the most powerful ways to promote international understanding and peace.

The Rotary Youth Exchange program provides thousands of young students with the opportunity to meet people from other countries and to experience new cultures, planting the seeds for a lifetime of international understanding. The program offers numerous benefits to its young participants and their Rotarian hosts and mentors, as well as to the community at large. Through Youth Exchange, students learn firsthand about all aspects of life in another country. As their concept of the world expands, they mature and develop a deeper understanding of themselves. Immersion in another country’s educational system enhances their academic and personal growth.

Host clubs and families and the entire community are enriched by extended, friendly contact with someone from a different culture.

Since 1994, Mercer Island Rotary Club has hosted one high school student every year from another country to come and stay on Mercer Island. MI Rotary also sponsors a local U.S. high school student to attend school and live with a host family in another country. By attending school and living with a family in each country, high school students and  their host families achieve a unique understanding of the culture of another country.

Nilton Santos Biazi Junior arrived last August from Brazil and attended Mercer Island High School. He stayed with two different families on the Island; Lesley and Sandy Piha, and Kathleen Moody and Scott Sedlik.

His first host mom, Lesley Piha, said, “Junior was our family’s first experience having an exchange student and it really was the best experience of our lives. He came with an open mind, willing and wanting to be a part of everything our family and community offered. We learned so much about each other’s cultures, religions, language, etc. Junior not only became a mentor for our three boys, but is now their big brother.  Because of this experience we are looking forward to visiting Junior and his family next year in Brazil — a place we would not have considered prior to this exchange.”

Biazi’s second host mom, Kathleen Moody, said, “Our family was lucky enough to host Junior Biazi from Brazil in our home. Junior enriched our lives. We were able to expand our understanding of Brazil and enjoy his wonderful humor and infectious exuberance.

“Our son, David, says the house is too quiet now, and wants to know if we can host another exchange student. We now feel our family is expanded forever with our other son and brother.”

Biazi has been involved with Rotary since he was 12 years old. He came with the goal of securing grant money to benefit a nursery school in his home town.  The grant that Biazi helped to draft during his exchange was selected and fully funded by Rotary International.

“I learned to be an advocate of my country and my culture,” said Biazi. “It was a wonderful experience, and I had the opportunity to celebrate several holidays — Halloween, Thanksgiving, and even Hanukkah — that are not celebrated in Brazil.”

There are over 8,000 exchange students from more than 80 countries hosted by Rotary clubs each year.

The Mercer Island Rotary Club offers local families the opportunity to see the world through an exchange student’s eyes. Host families host a student for three months. The club also sponsors one student each year to go abroad.

Chiara Malaguzzi was selected to represent Mercer Island for the 2012-2013 school year, and recently returned from her year-long exchange in Chile.

“Exchange taught me that you can have more than one family, more than one home. It fills you with desire to always see more, creates connections around the world that are simply irreplaceable, brings out qualities in you that you may not have thought you had, but most importantly, it stays with you forever,” she said.

Applications are currently being accepted from Mercer Island families interested in hosting opportunities, and from Mercer Island High School sophomores interested in studying abroad during their junior year.

To learn more, contact Claudina Campbell at (425) 463-9051 or

Rotary meets every Tuesday, from noon to 1:30 p.m., at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center, 8236 S.E. 24th Street. Learn more online at

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