Austrian Rotarians welcome students from Japan
Japanese high school students visited Austria for three weeks in August.
Rotarians in Austria hosted about two dozen students and two Rotarians from areas of Japan hit hard by the March earthquake and tsunami.
When the students -- including two former Rotary Youth Exchange participants -- and the Rotarians arrived in Vienna in early August, they were welcomed at a reception sponsored by the Austrian Foreign Ministry. During their three-week stay, the visitors were treated to a cultural and historical tour, camping and trekking in the mountains, sports, and an opera performance.
"I savored the warmth of human kindness," said Hikaru Suzuki, one of the students. "I felt alive."
The Youth Exchange committee for districts 1910 and 1920 (Austria), proposed the visit to counterparts in Japan. Hiroko Watanabe, a chair of the Youth Exchange Committee in District 2530 (Fukushima), put out a call for applications in several local high schools, and received more than 40 responses. Some of the applicants had lost homes, were missing family members, or had lost their parents. Others had been forced to evacuate because of danger from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
"I had been terribly shocked by the earthquake, and was troubled about the nuclear accident," said Watanabe, who accompanied the students on the trip. "As a Rotarian living in the disaster area, I felt we must do something."
Lufthansa offered half-price airline tickets for the visitors, the governments of Austria and Japan offered financial support, and Japanese and Austrian Rotarians paid for airfare, accommodations, and other local expenses. Jutta Stefan-Bastl, Austria’s ambassador to Japan, visited Fukushima to brief the students about Austria.
At the end of the trip, "the Japanese embassy in Vienna organized a farewell party for us," Watanabe recalled, adding that the gathering was an emotional one. "I am certain that one day, these students will be able to reach out a hand to someone somewhere in the world."
Adapted from Rotary-No-Tomo
For more information: