Historic Moments: Origins of Group Study Exchange
Group Study Exchange team members visit a nuclear research project near Geneva, circa 1967. From the November 1967 issue of
In January 1964, the RI Board of Directors and The Rotary Foundation Board of Trustees approved Group Study Exchange as an official Rotary program. Thirty-four teams from 17 pairs of districts participated in the first round of exchanges during the 1965-66 and 1966-67 Rotary years.
But young people had been traveling the globe with support from Rotary clubs well before this decision. In 1950, six young men from England went to New Zealand, led by English Rotarian Geoff Morton and financed by clubs in Yorkshire. They traveled the country, staying with Rotarians along the way.
Rotarian Ralph Vernon proposed a similar endeavor in 1955 to clubs in northern New Zealand, who wanted to commemorate Rotary’s golden anniversary with a districtwide effort. District 39 (now districts 9910, 9920, 9930, and 9940) created the Rotary Overseas Travel Award program, and John Ledgerwood, of the Rotary Club of Hamilton, led the first team on a trip to Great Britain.
The program was so successful that district leaders in New Zealand decided to continue it after the anniversary celebrations had ended. Over the next few years, teams from New Zealand traveled to Canada, India, Japan, Sri Lanka, and the United States. New Zealand Rotarians welcomed visitors from these countries as well as from Pakistan.
In the early 1960s, the Trustees began considering programs for non-Rotarians that would promote international goodwill and understanding. One plan was for small groups of young business and professional men to travel from one Rotary district to a district in another country.
Harold T. Thomas, a New Zealand Rotarian who served as RI president in 1959-60, shared information about the Rotary Overseas Travel Award with the Trustees. Soon after the Board and Trustees approved Group Study Exchange, Vernon and other Rotarians with experience in group exchanges and vocational training were invited to finalize the details of the new Foundation program.
In the nearly five decades since, more than 70,000 young men and women have traveled the globe as part of Group Study Exchange teams.
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