After returning home, many students miss their lives abroad. Rotex helps keep the international connections going
by Diana Schoberg Illustration by Viktor Miller Gausa from rotary.org website
Riikka Muje had a fantastic time when she lived in Brittany, France, in 2011-12 as a Rotary Youth Exchange student. “At the beginning it was hard,” she recalls. “I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t know anyone. But then it’s amazing how you can form a life in another place.”

After her exchange, adjusting back to life in her hometown of Rovaniemi, Finland, was just as hard — until she joined a Rotex alumni association, Rotex for short. Rotex alumni associations are groups of Rotary Youth Exchange alumni who act as intermediaries between Rotarians and Youth Exchange students. They provide mentoring and organize events with exchange students in their home country as a way to give back and keep their international connections alive.

Now Muje is a fifth-year medical student at the University of Turku and president of Rotex Finland, which has more than 80 members across the country’s five districts.

Are Rotex clubs everywhere?

It depends on the area. In Germany, Taiwan, Brazil, and Finland, for example, Rotex is well established. There are other places where it is just getting started. And there are some countries where Rotex alumni associations have yet to be founded or chartered with Rotary International.

Rotex alumni associations have organized four international conventions in different host cities. We founded Rotex International four years ago to spread awareness about Rotex. We have five board members from different countries. And last year, Rotex International was chartered as a Rotary alumni association, which gave us official standing in the Rotary family.

What’s the role of Rotex in Rotary Youth Exchange?

In Finland, when someone applies for Rotary Youth Exchange, the Rotex members are there for the interviews to help the Rotarians choose the students who will go on exchange. When Rotarians host educational events for outbound students, we are there as well, to tell about our own experiences. And after the students come back home, we send them an email to invite them to join. Rotex is a good way to give back after a really good experience.

How else do you work with Rotarians?

Rotarians ask us to help with many local Rotary Youth Exchange events. In Finland, we help organize language and culture camps that are held at the beginning of an exchange. There are always 10 to 15 Rotex members who work as camp leaders. When Rotarians in Finland host tours for Youth Exchange students — the EuroTour or Lapland tour, for example — they also invite us to help with organization and practical things. We do smaller Rotex events as well, every month or two by district. We help promote exchanges by visiting schools and doing social media campaigns. And in some countries, such as Germany and the United States, Rotex members do fundraising events. As president of Rotex Finland, I also take part in Finnish Youth Exchange meetings to provide a youth opinion as they develop their programs.

Why did you join Rotex?

I had a good Rotary Youth Exchange experience in France, and when I got back I felt so empty. Rotex gives you a chance to continue interacting with people from other countries, and to get to know people who have had the same experience as you. It helps you readapt to your old life, which can be surprisingly difficult.

I joined Rotex in my hometown of Rovaniemi, which is in the north of Finland, on the Arctic Circle. When I moved to Turku in the south to attend university, I didn’t know people outside of those I met at school. Rotex has helped me to make friends who do things in life other than medicine. I think that’s really valuable.

• This story originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Rotary magazine.

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