Four tourists from Germany, along with another from Austria, wouldn’t stand out much in a downtown Juneau crowded with visitors from across the world.
However, while this group partook in many of the usual travelers’ activities — a sled dog experience, a trip up the Mt. Roberts Tramway and a salmon bake, to name a few — they also took time to visit with several members of the Juneau business community and make presentations at Juneau’s three Rotary clubs.
Which seems only fair, since Rotary International is sponsoring the quintet’s trip to Alaska and Canada as part of its Group Study Exchange Program.
Four members of the group — Hannelore Dietrich, Dr. Christina Kaiser and Mario Bause from Germany along with Silvia Leitner from Austria — are the young adults participating in the exchange, and are accompanied by Jörg Bahner, a Rotarian from Germany who is serving as the team’s leader.
One of the goals of the trip is to get the team members, who are in the early stages of their careers, to meet with their career counterparts in their host countries. However, sometimes a perfect match can’t be found in every place. Kaiser is a forensic pathologist who was able to see how causes of death are determined in Anchorage, but a similar office doesn’t exist in Juneau. Instead, the host Rotarians made plans to take her and her fellow travelers to NOAA, where animal necropsies are performed.
Even when a match can’t be made, other business opportunities can be explored. Bahner said he met a Rotarian from The Netherlands while in Fairbanks. One thing led to another, and the German pantyhose maker was connecting a Dutchman with a friend in New Zealand who is a food wholesaler.
Dietrich related a similar experience. She is currently working for her parents’ tax consulting firm, but is also in the process of opening her own food importing and exporting business. She said she met an Anchorage man who can help her bring Alaska fish into Germany.
For Dietrich and Bause, this trip marked a return to the United States. Dietrich was an exchange student in Texas while in high school, while Bause was one in Michigan. Bause immersed himself in American culture so much then, he played a season as wide receiver for his high school’s football team.
Exchanges are set up during an annual meeting of Rotary District Governors, according to local Rotarian George Elgee, who served as a team leader for a previous group from Alaska that went to Europe. The district Alaska is in, 5010, covers not just the state, but also the Yukon Territory and part of Russia. Elgee said Alaska, with its natural beauty and tourist appeal, is in high demand as a destination at those conferences.
The group left Juneau Sunday and was headed for Sitka, then Kenai, with plans to end up in Homer Thursday through Saturday for a District 5010 conference before heading home. In Homer, the group will make its final presentations and reconnect with some of the people they have met during their trip, which also took them through Whitehorse, Skagway, Wasilla, Palmer and the Denali National Park.
Anyone in Alaska between the ages of 25 and 40 is eligible to be part of the next Alaskan exchange, Elgee said. However, no Rotarians, their descendants or spouses can be chosen (members of Rotaract, an appendant body of Rotary for people ages 18-30 are eligible, however). For more information, visit http://bit.ly/lOsrkZ.
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