Holger Knaack
President, 2020-21
Dear fellow Rotarians,
As you may know, I am a vocal advocate for Rotary Youth Exchange and the powerful and life-changing effects it has on everyone involved. As such, I want to thank you for everything you have done during this incredibly challenging time to prioritize the safety and well-being of our Rotary Youth Exchange students, families, and hardworking volunteers like yourselves.
I recognize that many districts are making decisions about whether to move forward, postpone or cancel exchanges in the upcoming 2020-21 Rotary year. Of course no one wants to make these difficult decisions, and I’m certain they weigh heavy on your hearts. However, we must respect that every district will make their own decisions in the interest of our young people, families and communities, and no district should feel pressured to participate beyond their means or willingness. Often the most important decisions can be the most difficult, but as Rotarians, where others may see challenges, we can find opportunities.
If your district plans to or is considering continuing exchanges in the coming year, work together to explore flexible options.

•    Create short-term exchanges. Districts that cannot commit to the typical long-term exchange experience can develop a meaningful short-term exchange program later in the year that will still give students and host families a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And, hosting short-term students might be a great way to recruit new host families who may have otherwise been afraid of a long-term commitment.
•    Consider partial-year, long-term exchanges. Some schools may consider admitting Youth Exchange students for a partial- or half-year term. Rotary International only requires that long-term exchange students be fully enrolled in school, so if schools permit a deferred or shortened enrollment period, districts can work together to arrange modified long-term exchanges.
•    Discuss outbound-only exchanges. Some districts may be in a better position to host students than others, depending on how local conditions develop.  Work with your partners to determine whether sending or hosting a student could still be a safe, viable option even if the exchange cannot be reciprocal.  
If your district will suspend or significantly reduce exchanges over the next Rotary year I want you to devote this time to strengthening your Youth Exchange program.
•    Strengthen your youth protection efforts. Review and revise your volunteer and student training materials, reexamine your policies and procedures, and consult experts to update and improve your crisis management plans.
•    Keep your district committee strong. It will be more important than ever to keep the district Youth Exchange committee connected and engaged. Develop succession plans that will build dynamic committees for years to come.
•    Reconnect with alumni. Reach out to rebound students, especially students who have returned home early due to the coronavirus pandemic. Focus on fostering relationships and strengthening their connection to the Rotary family, which has been proven to help students find meaning in their exchange experience well beyond the exchange itself.

As a reminder, even if your district may not have an active exchange program next year, your district governor-elect should still renew your district’s certification so that students may participate in the future. In the event your district does not renew, it will have to undergo the full certification application process if it wishes to participate the following year.
Whatever decisions your district makes for the coming year, I am certain that with your leadership and creative thinking you will keep our Rotary Youth Exchange community strong, and create innovative and exciting opportunities. The Rotary Youth Exchange and Youth Protection team at Rotary International will be here to support you and is already working on ways to help you navigate the year ahead. If we all work together we can overcome even the greatest challenges and emerge stronger than ever.
Thank you for continued commitment to Rotary Youth Exchange.


Holger Knaack
President, Rotary International 2020-21