When I applied for the Rotary youth exchange programme, little did I imagine its impact on my life, career and future. At several instances I saw how Rotary continues to rebuild faith in humanity over and over again.
It all started with an exchange year in District 9910 in New Zealand in 2012. Then only 15, I flew from Switzerland to New Zealand, a country I called home within the next year.
I not only discovered completely new sides of me but also found another family and new friends, a second life at the other side of the planet. During my year there, the district conference was held at Norfolk Island, the home of PDG Lindsay Ford, a man who impressed me with his big heart and humble nature. A few days later, he was the guest speaker at my host club, RC Henderson. His talk about how he travelled to India to assist the national polio eradication programme impressed me and planted a seed of fascination for India in my heart.
Returning home to Switzerland I contacted PDG Ford and offered to help with the polio eradication programme in India. He was extremely helpful and put me in touch with PDG P V Purushothaman from D 2982. I soon realised that my help was not needed as Rotary had already done an amazing job of eradicating polio in India. This did not reduce my fascination for the country. As I had an ardent interest in pursuing medicine as a career, I wanted to do a study tour of Indian hospitals. Somehow, looking back, it seems like a miracle to me, PDG Puru put me in touch with PDG S P Balasubramaniam and the idea was born of visiting India, not to help eradicate polio, but to visit hospitals and learn about Indian health care systems.
A few months later, with no idea what to expect, I was standing at the Bangalore airport and was welcomed by PDG Bala. Thanks to Rotary and the amazing men in District 2982, especially the help of PDGs Puru and Bala and his friends from RC Salem Midtown, I learnt about the health care scenario in India, in a way that no organisation or volunteer programme could have taught me. I was hosted by different Rotarian families who took me in and cared for me as if I was their own child.
I was surprised by the connections I was able to build in this short time. For almost a month I visited hospitals, each for a week, and was hosted in the neighbourhood. Thanks to Bala’s connections and his friends, all doors in the hospitals were opened to me and I saw surgeries, deliveries, emergencies, treatments, laboratories and pharmacies — everything that interested me. Every day was a new chance to learn, not only about injections and sterile handwashing but also about the culture of the Indians in Tamil Nadu. The best day was by far when I heard that I had passed my entrance exam in Switzerland, got a seat to study medicine at the University of Basel and only a few hours later, I assisted an appendicitis surgery. Words cannot describe how surreal this felt for me.
My visit to India not only gave me the confirmation that medicine is my calling, but also taught me more about myself and a country that’s full of mystery and diversity, and amazingly kindhearted people; Rotarians and non-Rotarians who don’t mind the amount of effort and money they invest to change someone’s life. I left India knowing that I will return one day, to actually practise medicine and learn more.
It was important for me to share this story with you, because it’s proof that you don’t need a programme or instructions from someone to do amazing things in this world. Thanks to the connections of Rotarians all around the world, my summer included hospitals, surgeries and South Indian food and I could not have been happier.
I thank everyone who has helped me make this trip a reality and everyone who helps every day in small or big ways to make the world a better place. I hope that I will be able to do my part one day too.
(Selina Ehrenzeller was hosted by D 2980 as Rotary Exchange student from Switzerland to do internship in hospitals.)