Mario Macicak came all the way from Kezmarok, Slovakia to Clarks Summit to become the latest Rotary-sponsored exchange student. He is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Poprad and is a guest of the Rotary Club of the Abingtons.
“Destiny!” Macicak exclaimed. “Do you believe in destiny?”
He asked this question of me as I was trying to interview him.
I answered, “Well, I guess.”
“Well, destiny has brought me here,” he firmly stated.
He told me he is a Rotary exchange student because, and only because, of destiny.
He had never heard of Rotary, never knew of the good Rotarians do all the time and never dreamed of ever going so far away from home. Then one day he heard or overheard a conversation about young people who had traveled to faraway places and lived in lovely homes with people who became family to them. He listened in wonder and asked who does this.
The answer was Rotary.
He had never heard of Rotary. He asked what it is and where in the world was such a place. As he listened, he knew such a program was for him. He set out to find out how he could qualify to be a Rotary Exchange Student, even though he was unsure if there was a Rotary club in his town.
Rotary Youth Exchange (RYE) is a Rotary International student exchange program for students in secondary school. Since 1929, Rotary International sent young people around the globe to get to know new cultures. About 8500 students are sponsored by Rotary clubs each year. These students are sent to another country for a year, usually a school year, and they live with multiple host families. They are expected to perform ordinary daily tasks, like any other kid in the household, and attend high school classes.
Macicak’s local Rotary club is that of Poprad, Slovakia, in District 2240. Through that club, he learned student exchanges are for people from 15 to 19 years of age who have shown strong leadership in their schools and communities, are willing to try new things, are open to cultural differences and are willing to serve as an ambassador for their country. In his heart, he knew all those qualifications could be met by him. He began the lengthy process, close to a year, where he was scrutinized and documented and coached so that his year abroad would be successful.
The process for host families is also in place. Rotary International instituted a certification program, which assesses individual Rotary Youth Exchange programs with a primary focus on quality control and student safety. Rotary groups, such as our club, are not permitted to participate in RYE programs without first obtaining RI certification.
In September, Rotarian Ryan Campbell took a day off from work to meet Mario at the airport in New York City. When they arrived back in Clarks Summit, family and extended family of Ryan’s were there to greet Mario and welcome him to his new home. The Campbell household with be the first of several families where Mario will live this school year.
As an exchange student, Mario comes to our Rotary Club of the Abingtons meetings each week where he is greeted by all. He recently spoke to us about his life in Slovakia. Although he struggles with English, he readily addressed us with a slide program he had prepared, called “Me, My Town and My Country.”
As he stood at the podium, Mario’s command of our language is obviously limited and he addressed us in choppy, but delightful, English. His natural wit and charm came through with each word. He spoke about his family, his friends and his home life with loving sincerity. He is lively and interesting and, most of all, full of enthusiasm and fun. He attends school at Abington Heights High School and has an interest in information technology and graphics. He enjoys winter sports but his real love is acting and his ultimate dream is to be a Shakespearean actor.
Mario’s home is located in the high Tatra mountains, where tourism and sports such as cycling and hockey are paramount. The High Tatras National Park, just north of Poprad, offers access to the small alpine mountains in summer and many ski centers in winter. His town of Kezmarok, Slovakia has about 17,000 residents. Nearby Poprad, with a population of 55,000, is one of the most important cities in eastern Slovakia and is known as the administrative, economic and cultural center of the Tatras region.
From so far away, Mario comes to our town to meet our people, learn our language and play in our mountains. At first glance, it may appear to the onlooker as if he is receiving so much. But the real gift is what he brings to us. His energy, enthusiasm, curiosity and innocent demeanor show a teenager full of hope and life.
We welcome Mario Macicak to our community.