The world is more mobile than it has ever been before and I, like so many others, am a migrant. My family recently moved to Switzerland from Ukraine where we lived for over two years. I am originally from the United States, my wife from Germany, my son is Ukrainian, and our daughter was born here in Geneva, too young to know anything else.
Moving abroad is never easy, especially when leaving behind networks of friends and colleagues made over the years. Developing new networks becomes even more challenging with young children in the mix. Further, moving to a new country often requires learning additional languages if one wants to break out of the bubble of people that speak your native tongue.
Being a Rotarian makes it easier. I find it it comforting to know there will be rotary clubs in almost any city that is not in Iran or North Korea. The languages and cultures may be different but the values of the members will be the same – serving others and making the world a better place both as individuals and as part of a larger global network. Over the years, I have belonged to a number of different Rotary Clubs. My first was the Rotary Club of Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Being a member of the club allowed me to get involved in a number of interesting projects. However, this was a club that met early in the morning. I needed to rush to the meetings on DC’s notoriously bad metro and then rush to work after, often being late. It wasn’t an ideal situation so when a new club formed in the Dupont Circle neighbourhood of Washington DC I happily joined it. The club was exactly what I was looking for – young, diverse, and informal. The meetings took place in a tavern with an ample selection of craft beers. Evening meetings meant lots of time for socialising and our best ideas often happened over drinks.
Washington DC will always be an enormous centrifuge that whirls people in and out as they seek other opportunities. After fourteen years, it was my turn to be spun out and we moved to Kyiv. I loved living and working there but was having a hard time finding more volunteer opportunities, a chance to give back to the city. I visited a few different clubs but the language barrier was a daunting challenge – Russian and Ukrainian are not languages that one picks up quickly. Fortunately, I found the Kyiv International Rotary Club which had members from Canada, Germany, the United States, Denmark, Ukraine, Sweden, Italy, and several other countries. English was the official language and being a member allowed me to see and volunteer in parts of Kyiv I would not normally have seen. Meeting in an Italian restaurant, the club was informal, friendly, and was ambidextrous in the sense that they liked beer and wine equally.
After moving to Geneva, I sought out the Geneva International Club which uses English and French as its functional languages. The Geneva International Club meets in one of Geneva’s nicest hotels and has professionals from around the world working for the United Nations, Embassies, and the private sector. The setting is more formal than other club I have belonged to but members are friendly and welcoming. I’ve met members from a number of countries I am connected to including Ukraine. There is a clear preference for wine and the dinners are much better than the pub grub to which I had become accustomed to at rotary meetings over the years.
I am happy to have found a new club in Geneva to join. Eventually there will come a time for my family and I to move on, and when we do, there will be other clubs. Staying connected to Rotary and Rotarians continues to help me know the countries in which I am living and find ways to help locally and internationally. Looking for a club in the city to which you are moving? Use the Rotary Club Finder to locate them.