Five professional members of a Rotary Club in Columbia, South America, are spending time in Carbon County, guests of the Jim Thorpe Rotary Club. Four young professionals and an experienced team leader are currently spending time in and around Jim Thorpe, sharing their experiences with executives here and touring some of our facilities, including area schools, manufacturing plans and coal mines.

The Group Study Exchange (GSE) program of The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International is a unique cultural and vocational exchange opportunity for young business and professional men and women between the ages of 25 and 40 in the initial years of their professional life. The program provides travel grants for teams of participants to exchange visits between paired areas in different countries. For four to six weeks, team members study the host country's institutions and ways of life, observe their own vocations as practiced abroad, develop personal and professional relationships, and exchange ideas. Team members can come from corporations, small businesses, community organizations, medical and educational facilities, government offices, and nonprofit agencies.

The group's team leader is Ruben Ocampo, a retired electro-mechanical engineer and past president of the Rotary Club in Barranquilla, Columbia. He is accompanied by Erika P. Ruiz, an English language teacher; Gabriel E. Escobar, a mechanical engineer engaged in coal mining; Luz Maribel Viana, a business administrator; and Eduardo E. Serrano, an industrial engineer.

Ocampo has been with the Rotary organization for 17 years. This is his first trip to the United States as a team leader.

"This program provides an excellent opportunity for our young executives to have new experiences, to see different parts of your country and to learn about your technologies," Ocampo said. "Our young professionals want to learn new things and they are eager to apply what they learn. There is always something new for us to learn."

Ruiz, the Columbian English language teacher, said that she was learning a lot that she would take back to her country. English classes in her country may have as many as 55 high-school aged students in the room and teachers are encouraged to take on more students in order to earn more. The classes she saw here had far fewer students and of a younger age.

At the same time, Ruiz said she visited some classes where English was being taught as a second language to Spanish speaking children and was able to offer our teachers some insight into how to communicate more effectively with these students.

Even as these foreign executives are sampling our culture, Rotary Clubs from our area are sending teams of young executives to Columbia. The exchanges rotate to different parts of the world. Last year, our club hosted executives from Eastern Europe.

"It's surprising how many things we might consider trivial are quite different," said Bob Stevenson, former president of the Jim Thorpe Rotary Club and current host to two members of the exchange group. "We get so much of our coffee from Columbia, but I learned that they're not really that into drinking coffee."

"It's true," Ocampo agreed. "I drink coffee in the morning, but in our country we use much more milk. You would say we are having a little coffee with our milk instead of milk in our coffee."

Stevenson, who said that the program would be changing in the years ahead, pointed out that these exchanges prove that it's just as important to have the cultural exchange as it is to build the business relationships. Ocampo agreed.